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First published 2005
ISBN 0 7020 2782 0
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and experience broaden our knowledge, changes in practice, treatment and drug
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The Publisher
Printed in Germany
Chapter 1 Amphibian anatomy and physiology
Peter Helmer DVM
Avian Animal Hospital of Bardmoor, Largo, Florida, USA
and
Douglas P Whiteside DVM DVSc
Staff Veterinary, Calgary Zoo, Alberta, Canada
Chapter 12 Ferrets
John H Lewington BvetMed MRCVS
Member Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) and Australian Small
Animal Veterinary Association (ASDAVA), member of American Ferret
Association (AFA), World Ferret Union (WFU), South Australian Ferret
Association (SAFA), New South Wales Ferret Welfare Society (NSWFWS),
Ferrets Southern District Perth (FSDP)
vii
Contributors
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One of the main pleasures I have in working with exotic species is the fascinating diversity
among my patients. Daily in practice I see living evolution from frogs to snakes to birds and
small mammals. Each one presents a clinical challenge whether it is saving a tortoise found
drowning in a pond, treating a parrot with sinusitis or an anorexic rabbit. Yet we really need
to understand the basics how reptiles breathe, the structure of the psittacine sinuses and
the complex gastro-intestinal physiology of the rabbit before we can properly treat these
unique pets.
The internal structure and function of exotic species has always intrigued me, yet the
topic was traditionally not taught at Veterinary College. I wrote this book with the intention
of both redressing this balance and answering the many questions, which interest those who
work with exotics. Why, for example, dont birds ears pop when they fly, why are rabbits
obligate nose breathers and how can a lizard drop its tail and grow a new one?
Over the last ten years veterinary knowledge of the medicine and surgery of exotic
animals has rapidly expanded yet the basic structure and function of these diverse species
have never been drawn together in a single text. With the increasing numbers of exotic pets,
veterinary surgeons are at a considerable disadvantage trying to treat sick reptile, avian and
rodent patients without having in-depth knowledge of the normal bare bones beneath.
This book, written by vets for vets, aims to merge the wealth of zoological research with
veterinary medicine bringing the reader from the dissection table into the realms of
clinical practice and living patients. To this end, I have included clinical notes where
applicable and items of general interest about many species.
I hope this book will inspire vets in practice, veterinary students, nurses and technicians
to study this long neglected yet captivating subject and help them apply this knowledge
clinically to their patients.
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Preface
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In writing this book I am grateful to veterinary surgeons Peter Helmer, Doug Whiteside and
John Lewington for contributing the excellent Amphibian and Ferret chapters.
I would like to thank the Natural History Museum of Ireland who provided the sources
for the following illustrations: Fig 6.1, 6.2, 6.5, 6.12, 6.14, 6.15, 6.17, 6.25, 6.67, 9.6, and
11.7. Also Janet Saad for her exceptional snake photographs.
The Elsevier editorial team were wonderful with their belief in this project, their
constant support and endless patience. I would also like to thank Samantha Elmhurst for
her skilful and beautiful illustrations. And Tasha my poor dog who missed out on walks so
this book could be researched and written.
Lastly, I would like to dedicate this book to my beloved mother, the late Mary Pat
OMalley, whose enthusiasm and encouragement kept me going as I endeavoured to juggle
the demands of lecturing and running my own exotic animal practice with writing this book.
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Acknowledgments
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INTRODUCTION
With over 4000 species described, the class Amphibia
represents a significant contribution to the diversity of
vertebrate life on earth. Amphibians occupy an important
ecological niche in which energy is transferred from their
major prey item, invertebrates, to their predators,
primarily reptiles and fish (Stebbins & Cohen 1995).
The first amphibian fossils date back approximately 350
million years. Current evidence indicates that they
descended from a group of fish similar to the coelacanth
(Latimeria chalumnae) (Boutilier et al. 1992; Wallace et al.
1991). These fish had functional lungs and bony, lobed fins
that supported the body. Further refinements of these fea-
tures allowed amphibians to be the first group of verte-
brates to take on a terrestrial existence. The class name
Amphibia (derived from the Greek roots amphi, meaning
both, and bios, translated as life), refers to the dual
stages of life: aquatic and terrestrial.
Multiple features support the role of amphibians as
an evolutionary step between fish and reptiles. The 3-
chambered heart represents an intermediary between the
2-chambered piscine model and the more advanced 3-
chambered heart of the reptiles.
The trend toward terrestrial life is also evident in the
respiratory system. Most species have aquatic larval forms
where gas exchange occurs in external gills. Metamorphosis
to the adult, usually a terrestrial form, results in the develop-
ment of lungs. These primitive lungs are relatively ineffi-
cient compared to those of other terrestrial vertebrates,
and respiration is supplemented by gas exchange across the
skin. Secretions of the highly glandular skin help to main-
tain a moist exchange surface; however, amphibians are
restricted to damp habitats.
Most amphibians are oviparous, similar to fish and most
reptiles. Though their eggs must not be laid in completely
aquatic environments, the ova lack the water-resistant
membranes or shell of reptiles and birds, thus they must be
deposited in very damp places to avoid desiccation.
The larval stages rely on fins to move through their aquatic
environment, in a manner similar to fish. Metamorphosis
includes the development of legs for terrestrial locomotion
(Figs. 1.11.6). The dual life cycle remains evident as the
limbs of many amphibians remain adapted, for instance
with webbing between the toes, for aquatic locomotion.
TAXONOMY
Amphibians are classified into three orders (Table 1.1):
1. Anura (Salientia) the frogs and toads
2. Caudata (Urodela) the salamanders, newts, and
sirens
3. Gymnophiona (Apoda) the caecilians
Anura
By far, the Anura represent the greatest diversity of
amphibians, with over 3500 living species divided among
21 families. Anura comes from the Greek, meaning with-
out a tail, and with the exception of the tailed frogs
(Leiopelmatidae), the remainder of anurans have either a
very poorly developed tail or lack one (Fig. 1.7). The larvae
are unlike the adults, and lack teeth. Neoteny, the condition
in which animals become able to reproduce while arrested
developmentally in the larval stage (Wallace et al. 1991), is
not present. The anuran families are listed in Table 1.2
(Frank & Ramus 1995; Goin et al. 1978; Mitchell et al.
1988; Wright 1996, 2001b).
Caudata
The order Caudata comprises nine families, with around
375 species described (Table 1.3). Urodeles have a long
tail, with the toothed larval forms often being similar in
appearance to the adults. Neoteny is common among the
salamander families, with the axolotl (Ambystoma
mexicanum) (Fig. 1.8) being the most common example
(Frank & Ramus 1995; Goin et al. 1978; Mitchell et al.
1988; Wright 1996, 2001b).
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Amphibian anatomy and physiology
Peter J. Helmer and Douglas P. Whiteside
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Gymnophiona
Although there are approximately 160 known species of
caecilians, which are classified into six families (Table 1.4),
clinicians will likely see them only on a sporadic basis. They
are limbless, with elongate worm-like bodies, and short or
absent tails (Frank & Ramus 1995; Goin et al. 1978;
Mitchell et al. 1988; Wright 1996, 2001b).
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Figure 1.2 Developing embryos of Dyeing poison frog Dendrobates
tinctorius. (Photo by Helmer.)
Figures 1.31.5 Progression of metamorphosis of Dyeing poison frog
Dendrobates tinctorius. The process from egg to adult takes approximately
3 months. (Photo by Helmer.)
Figure 1.1 Egg mass of Dyeing poison frog Dendrobates tinctorius.
(Photo by Helmer.)
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Order Representative species
Anura Red-eyed treefrog
(Agalychnis callidryas)
Gymnophionia Caecilians
Caudata Tiger salamander
(Ambystoma tigrinum)
METABOLISM
Based on the theory of metabolic scaling, larger amphibians,
in general, will require proportionately fewer calories than
smaller animals. Metabolic requirements also vary with
environmental temperature and activity level. Active, food-
seeking species, such as Dendrobatid frogs, have a higher
energy requirement than those species that ambush prey,
such as the horned frogs (Ceratophrys spp.). Metabolic rate
will increase by up to 1.5 to 2 times with illness or surgical
recovery, and by up to 9 times with strenuous activity
(Wright & Whitaker 2001). Formulae for the determina-
tion of metabolic requirements of various amphibians are
presented in Table 1.5.
Thermoregulatory and hydrational homeostasis
Amphibians are poikilotherms (ectothermic), relying on a
combination of environmental heat and adaptive behavior
to maintain a preferred body temperature. This preferential
temperature is dependent on a number of factors, includ-
ing species, age, and season, and is essential for optimal
metabolism. However, the ideal body temperature is also
dictated by specific metabolic processes; for example, the
body temperature required for optimal digestion is likely
different from that required for gametogenesis (Goin et al.
1978; Whitaker et al. 1999; Wright 1996, 2001d).
A number of physiological and behavioral adaptations
have developed in amphibians that allow them to control
Amphibian anatomy and physiology
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Table 1.1 The class Amphibia is composed of three orders
Figure 1.6 Young adult Dyeing poison frog Dendrobates tinctorius.
(Photo by Helmer.)
Figure 1.7 Adult Red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas).
(Photo by Helmer.)
Table 1.2 Composition of the order Anura
Family Representative species
Brachycephalidae Saddleback toads
Bufonidae True toads
Centrolenidae Glass frogs
Dendrobatidae Poison frogs
Discoglossidae Painted frogs
Heleophrynidae Ghost frogs
Hylidae Treefrogs
Hyperoliidae African reed frogs
Leiopelmatidae Tailed frogs
Leptodactylidae Tropical frogs
Microhylidae Narrowmouth frogs
Myobatrachidae Australian froglets
Pelobatidae Spadefoot toads
Pelodytidae Parsley frogs
Pipidae Clawed frogs
Pseudidae Harlequin frogs
Ranidae True frogs
Rhacophoridae Flying frogs
Rhinodermatidae Darwins frogs
Rhinophrynidae Mexican burrowing toads
Sooglossidae Seychelles frogs
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Family Representative species
Ambystomatidae Mole salamanders
Amphiumidae Amphiumas
Cryptobranchidae Giant salamanders
Dicamptodontidae American giant salamanders
Hynobiidae Asian salamanders
Plethodontidae Lungless salamanders
Proteidae Neotenic salamanders
Salamandridae True salamanders
Sirenidae Sirens
Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
their body temperatures to a limited degree. The most
obvious of these are postural and locomotory controls that
allow the amphibian to actively seek or move away from
heat sources. Another important method of thermoregu-
lation is peripheral vasodilation and constriction to regulate
body core temperature, often in conjunction with glandular
secretions to regulate evaporative cooling in some species
(Goin et al. 1978; Whitaker et al. 1999; Wright 1996, 2001d).
A change in skin color to modulate absorption of solar energy
is another significant adaptation that has been studied in
terrestrial anurans. Melanophores (melanin-rich pigment
cells) in the skin of amphibians can regulate internal melanin
aggregation or dispersal, thus changing the skin to a lighter
coloration to enhance reflectivity, and thus decrease heat
absorption in periods of light. In addition, some anurans
have extraordinarily high skin reflectivity for near infra-red
light (700900 nm), owing to their iridophores (color pig-
ment cells), which significantly reduces solar heat load
(Kobelt & Linsenmair 1992, 1995; Schwalm et al. 1977).
Finally, a number of crucial physiological adaptations are
found in wild temperate anuran and caudate species that
are necessary for winter survival. These include protein
adaptations (increased fibrinogen, shock proteins, and
glucose transporter proteins, and the appearance of ice
nucleating proteins in blood that guide ice formation), the
accumulation of low molecular weight carbohydrates
(glycerol or glucose) in blood and tissues, and increasing
plasma osmolarity through dehydration. These adaptations
serve to lower the freezing point of tissues (super-cooling)
and promote ice growth in extracellular compartments.
Amphibians that are freeze tolerant have also good tissue
anoxia tolerance during freeze-induced ischemia (Lee &
Costanzo 1998; Storey & Storey 1986).
Physiology, behavior, pathology, and therapies are all
influenced by temperature; therefore it is important for the
clinician to realize that amphibians must be kept within
environments that allow for them to stay within their pre-
ferred optimal temperature zone (POTZ) for normal meta-
bolic homeostasis (Whitaker et al. 1999; Wright 2001d). It
is equally important that amphibians not be subjected to
rapid temperature fluctuations because thermal shock may
ensue (Crawshaw 1998; Whitaker et al. 1999).
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Table 1.3 Composition of the order Caudata
Family Representative species
Caeciliidae Common caecilians
Ichthyophiidae Fish caecilians
Rhinatrematidae Beaked caecilians
Scolecomorphidae Tropical caecilians
Typhlonectidae Aquatic caecilians
Uraeotyphlidae Indian caecilians
Table 1.4 Composition of the order Gymnophiona
Figure 1.8 Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum). (Photo by Whiteside.)
Order Caloric requirement per 24 hours in kcal
a
Anuran 0.02 (BM)
0.84
Salamander 0.01(BM)
0.80
Caecilian 0.01(BM)
1.06
Table 1.5 Formulae for determination of caloric needs
of resting amphibians at 25 C
a
Value should be increased by a minimum of 50% during periods of injury or illness.
BM represents the animals body mass in grams.
(Adapted from Tables 7.1-7.4 in Wright KM and Whitaker BR, 2001).
Amphibians that are kept above their POTZ may show signs
of inappetence, weight loss, agitation, changes in skin color,
and immunosuppression. Those kept below the POTZ may
become inappetent, lethargic, develop abdominal bloating
associated with bacterial overgrowth from poor digestion,
have poor growth rates, or become immunocompromised.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Thus enclosures that contain a mosaic of thermal zones
are ideal to allow the amphibian to thermoregulate normally
(Whitaker et al. 1999; Wright 2001d).
Due to the permeability of most amphibians skin, desic-
cation is always a threat to survival, necessitating the devel-
opment of physiological adaptations and behaviors to ensure
hydrational homeostasis in aquatic or terrestrial environ-
ments. Amphibians are limited in their activities and ranges
as their evaporative water loss is greater than that of other
terrestrial vertebrates. Some species of amphibian, such
as axolotls and mud puppies, are totally dependent on an
aquatic environment, and even most terrestrial amphibians
must remain moist in order for gas exchange to be effective
(Boutilier et al. 1992; Shoemaker et al. 1992; Wright 2001d).
For most captive amphibian species, a relative environmen-
tal humidity of greater than 70% is appropriate as it provides
a humidity gradient and the animals can then select a level
that is suitable for them. Clinicians should always remain
aware of the need for the amphibian patient to remain in
moist settings when being examined (Whitaker et al.1999).
Behavioral responses to minimize water losses include
postural changes and limitation of activities to periods of
elevated humidity. One well-documented physiological
adaptation to prevent water loss that has been described in
South American treefrogs (Phyllomedusa spp.), and likely
exists in other treefrog species, is the secretion of a water-
proofing substance from lipid glands in their skin (Heatwole
& Barthalamus 1994; Wright 2001d). This waxy exudate is
smeared over the surface of the frog with stereotyped move-
ments of the feet and imparts a surface resistance to evapo-
rative losses comparable to many reptiles. Other described
physiological mechanisms in terrestrial amphibians include
stacked iridophores in the dermis, and dried mucus on the
epidermis (McClanahan et al. 1978; Wright 1996, 2001c).
It is important to realize that these protective mechanisms
are often lacking on the ventral surface of amphibians; the
ventrum serves as an important route for water uptake
from the environment, with some anurans even having a
modified area on their ventral pelvis, known as a drinking
patch, that is responsible for up to 80% of water uptake
(Parsons 1994).
physiological mechanisms to excrete excess water while
conserving plasma solutes (Goin et al. 1978; Mitchell et al.
1998; Wright 2001d).
GENERAL EXTERNAL ANATOMY
The three orders of amphibians are quite different in their
external appearance. Salamanders are lizard-like in form,
covered in glandular skin, have four legs (except the sirens,
which are lacking the pelvic limbs), and lack claws on their
digits. External feather-like gills may or may not be present.
The tail is usually laterally flattened. The salamanders range
in total length from 1.5 inches (4 cm) to over 60 inches
(1.5m). The anurans, or frogs and toads, are tail-less as
adults. External gills are absent. Anurans generally have
longer hind legs than fore, and commonly have webbed,
unclawed toes. Depending on the species, the glandular
skin may be smooth or bosselated. The snout-to-vent length
of anurans ranges from 3/8 inch to 12 inches (130 cm).
Caecilians are limbless and resemble a snake or worm. They
have a very short tail, if one is present at all. Small olfactory
and sensory tentacles are present in the nasolabial groove just
rostral to the eye. Total length varies from 3 to 30 inches
(7.575 cm) (Stebbins & Cohen 1995; Wright 2001b).
SKELETAL SYSTEM
There is significant diversity of skeletal elements among
amphibians. Caecilians lack pectoral and pelvic girdles, as
well as the sacrum. Locomotion in this group is primarily
achieved through worm-like regional contraction of the
body (vermiform motion), or lateral, eel-like undulations
(Stebbins & Cohen 1995; Wright 2001c).
Salamanders (Fig. 1.9) typically have four limbs, though
the hindlimbs are greatly reduced in the mud eels (Amphiuma
spp.) and missing in sirens (Siren spp. and Pseudobranchus
spp.) (Stebbins & Cohen 1995; Wright 2001c). Generally,
four toes are present on the forefoot and five on the hind,
although this is variable between species. Salamanders are
capable of regenerating lost toes and limbs. Cleavage planes,
or predetermined zones of breakage, are present in the tails
of many species so that when the animal is threatened
or injured the tail breaks free of the body. This is known
as autotomy; the lost tail will regenerate (Stebbins & Cohen
1995).
Anurans have several adaptations for saltatory locomotion
or jumping. They have four limbs, and the hind legs are
elongated (Fig. 1.10). There are generally four toes on the
forefoot and five on the hind foot. The vertebrae are fused
and the vertebral column is divided into the presacral,
sacral, and postsacral regions. The sacrum itself is not
present, and the pelvic girdle is fused. The forelimb is com-
posed of the humerus, a fused radio-ulna, carpals,
metacarpals, and phalanges, and the hind limb is formed by
the femur, fused tibiofibula, tarsals, metatarsals, and
phalanges. Caudal vertebrae are replaced by a fused
Amphibian anatomy and physiology
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Absorption of water from the gastrointestinal tract is
negligible in most species, thus oral fluids are of little benefit
in rehydrating an amphibian. For most terrestrial species,
shallow water soaks and subcutaneous or intracelomic dilute
fluid administration are most effective in combating
dehydration (Whitaker et al. 1999; Wright 2001d).
CLINICAL NOTE
Aquatic amphibians face a different problem in that they
are constantly immersed in a hypo-osmotic environment.
Overhydration is a constant threat, with plasma expansion
resulting in cardiac stress. To combat this, they have developed
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
urostyle. Tadpoles can regenerate limbs, but adult anurans
generally cannot (Wright 2001c).
CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
The amphibian cardiovascular system is comprised of the
arterial, venous, and well-developed lymphatic structures.
The amphibian heart is 3-chambered, with two atria and
one ventricle. The interatrial septum is fenestrated in
caecilians and most salamanders, but complete in anurans,
allowing varying degrees of mixture of oxygenated and deoxy-
genated blood (Wallace et al. 1991; Wright 2001c).
Blood draining from the caudal half of amphibians passes
through the kidneys prior to entering the postcaval vein.
Amphibian lymph consists of all the components of blood,
with the exception of erythrocytes. The lymphatic system
includes lymph hearts (also known as lymph sacs or lymph
vesicles) that beat independently of the heart at a rate of
5060 beats per minute. These structures ensure unidirec-
tional flow of lymph back to the heart (Wright 2001c).
Venepuncture sites
The choice of venepuncture sites will depend on the size and
species of the patient. In anurans, potential sites include the:
heart (cardiocentesis)
ventral abdominal vein (often visible percutaneously in
larger frogs) (Fig. 1.11)
femoral vein
lingual vein
In salamanders the ventral tail vein is readily accessible
(Whitaker & Wright 2001).
IMMUNE SYSTEM
Hematolymphopoiesis
The cellular composition of the blood of amphibians consists
of oval, nucleated erythrocytes, thrombocytes, monocytic
cells (lymphocytes and monocytes), and poorly described
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Figure 1.9 Dorsoventral projection of gastrointestinal contrast study of
a salamander. The radiograph is normal. (Photo by Whiteside.)
Figure 1.10 Dorsoventral projection of a Red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis
callidryas). Note the fracture of the right femur, as well as the radio-opaque
gastric foreign body. (Photo by Helmer.)
Recent studies in reptiles have demonstrated little effect
of the renal portal system on pharmacokinetics of drugs
administered in the caudal half of the body (Holz et al. 1999,
2002); however, until similar studies are performed on
amphibians it is advisable to avoid administration of
medications in the hind limb or tail (if present) of amphibians.
CLINICAL NOTE
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granulocytic cells that are not homologous or analogous to
mammalian granulocytes with similar staining characteristics
(Wright 1996). Plyzycz et al. (1995) offer an excellent review
of the hematolymphopoietic system of amphibians.
Bone marrow is found in a number of terrestrial amphibian
species although it does not function to the same capacity
as seen in higher vertebrates. Caecilians lack functional bone
marrow, as do aquatic salamanders, relying on functionally
equivalent centers in the liver and kidneys. Terrestrial sala-
manders have sites of lymphomyelocytopoiesis within their
bone marrow, while the bone marrow of anurans serves only
as a site for lymphocytopoiesis and myelothrombocytopoiesis
(Goin et al. 1978; Wright 2001c).
The spleen of amphibians contains a mosaic of red and
white pulp, which serve as centers of erythropoiesis and
myelopoiesis respectively. All amphibians possess a thymus,
which is one source of T-lymphocyte production, and remains
functional throughout the life of the animal. The size of the
spleen and the thymus can be affected by seasonal varia-
tions, and other factors such as malnutrition and chronic
stress can lead to thymic involution. Amphibians lack lymph
nodes; however, the intestinal tract contains scattered aggre-
gates of lymphoid tissue known as gut-associated lymphoid
tissue (GALT) (Plyzycz et al. 1995; Wright 2001c).
RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
In amphibians, gas exchange always occurs across a moist
surface. Although cutaneous respiration is important in both
larval and adult forms, as a general rule larval amphibians
utilize gill structures for respiration, while adults use lungs,
although there are many exceptions to this. There are three
modes of respiration described in adult caecilians and
anurans: pulmonic, buccopharyngeal and cutaneous. A fourth
mode exists in adult urodeles, that being branchial respira-
tion from retained gill structures seen in neotenic species
such as sirens, mudpuppies, axolotls and Texas blind sala-
manders (Goin et al. 1978; Mitchell et al. 1988; Wright
1996, 2001c).
In most amphibians, gill structure shows some variability
depending on the species and their environment. The gills
of larval anurans are usually smaller and simpler than those
of salamander larvae. While the branchial arches of tadpoles
are covered by an operculum, in many species of salamander,
especially neotenic species, the gills are external. The gills of
most caecilians are resorbed before birth or hatching, while
the gills of anurans resorb during metamorphosis. Most terres-
trial salamander species lose their gills and develop lungs like
anurans; however, many of the aquatic neotenic species will
retain their gills and still develop normal lungs. A few families
of salamander, notably the Plethodontidae and Hynobiidae,
lack lungs or have lungs that are reduced in size (Goin et al.
1978; Mitchell et al. 1988; Wright 1996, 2001c).
The lungs of amphibians are simple saclike structures that
lack true alveoli. As a result, most lungs are subdivided
internally by delicate reticulate infoldings of the pulmonic
tissue that significantly increase the surface area for gas
exchange. Complete cartilaginous rings support the tracheal
tissues. The trachea is variable in length depending on the
species, but in general is considered short, and bifurcates
quickly into main bronchi.
Amphibian anatomy and physiology
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Figure 1.11 Venepuncture of ventral midline abdominal vein of Marine
toad (Bufo marinum). (Photo by Whiteside.)
Care must be taken if intubating the amphibian patient, or
passing a tube to perform tracheal washes or intra-tracheal
treatments, to prevent damaging the pulmonic epithelium.
Also, owing to the delicate nature of the lung, one must make
sure not to overinflate the lungs during anesthesia as they
easily rupture (Green 2001; Mitchell et al. 1988; Wright 1996,
2001c).
CLINICAL NOTE
Amphibians lack a diaphragm so they rely on coordinated
movements of their axial and appendicular muscles for gas
exchange in the lungs. Buccopharyngeal gas exchange occurs
through the pumping action of the larynx during inspiration
and expiration. During periods of reduced oxygen availability
(such as hibernation) amphibians may switch to cutaneous
respiration. As cutaneous respiration is not as efficient as
pulmonic respiration, many amphibians have developed
specialized integumentary structures, such as lateral folds,
costal grooves or cutaneous hairs, as seen in the African
hairy frog (Trichobatrachus spp.) (Mitchell et al. 1988;
Wright 1996, 2001c).
DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Although many larval amphibians are herbivorous, adults
are entirely carnivorous, with a wide variety of invertebrates
constituting a large part of the diet. Caecilians rely primarily
on olfactory cues to locate prey, whereas salamanders and
anurans use sight as the prominent sense for food detection
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(Stebbins & Cohen 1995). Prey movement triggers the
feeding response. Anurans in particular are voracious feeders
and tend to eat anything that fits in their mouth. Gastric
overload and impaction, as well as ingestion of non-food
items, such as substrate gravel or moss, are fairly common
(Fig. 1.10).
Dentition
All orders of amphibians have jointed pediceled teeth.
The crown is loosely attached to the base, or pedicel, of the
tooth that is in turn attached to the jaw. Crowns are typi-
cally recurved in the direction of the pharynx and function
in holding prey as opposed to chewing. The teeth are shed
and replaced throughout life. Caecilians, salamanders, and
some anurans have one or two rows of maxillary and
mandibular teeth. Ranid frogs lack mandibular teeth, and
bufid toads do not have any teeth. Many species also have
vomerine and palatine tooth patches on the roof of the
mouth (Stebbins & Cohen 1995; Wright 2001c).
Tongue
The tongue of most anurans and salamanders (caecilians
have fixed tongues and pipid frogs are tongueless) can be
extended beyond the mouth for food capture (Stebbins &
Cohen 1995; Wright 2001c). In some species the tongue
may be projected up to 80% of the total length of the
animal (Mitchell et al. 1988). The tongue is extended and
flipped (such that the posterodorsal aspect of the folded
tongue becomes the anteroventral aspect), the surface of
the tongue adheres to the prey item and is subsequently
retracted into the mouth (Stebbins & Cohen 1995). The
entire process may take as little as 50 milliseconds (Mitchell
et al. 1988). Once in the mouth, the floor of the mouth is
raised and the eyelids are closed, forcing the globes ventrally.
This pushes the food item caudally into the pharynx.
Liver and intestinal tract
The remainder of the intestinal tract is relatively short and
follows the normal vertebrate plan. Feces are expelled into
the cloaca, a common opening for the gastrointestinal, uri-
nary, and reproductive systems.
The amphibian liver is located posterior and ventral to
the heart. The gross anatomy is variable depending on the
taxonomic group but generally conforms to the body shape
of the amphibian. Anurans have a bilobate liver, while cau-
dates have a slightly elongated and marginated liver, and in
the caecilians it is slightly marginated and very elongated.
The gall bladder of all the groups is intimately associated
with the liver, with a bile duct connecting it to the duo-
denum. In some species it joins the pancreatic duct before
it enters the intestinal tract (Duellman & Trueb 1986).
From early embryonic stages through to the adult stage,
the liver serves as an important erythropoietic center in
amphibians. In addition, through the metamorphic stages,
there is an increase in hepatic leukocyte production (Chen
& Turpen 1995), and the liver plays an important role in
immune function with its relatively large population of pig-
mented melanomacrophages and non-pigmented Kupffer
cells (Gallone et al. 2002; Guida et al. 1998). The numbers
of hepatic melanomacrophages in the amphibian liver are
influenced by seasonal variation in some species, and increase
with age and with antigenic stimulation in all species (Barni
et al. 1999; Sichel et al. 2002; Zuasti et al. 1998). It is not
uncommon to find melanomacrophages on celomic aspi-
rates in amphibians with celomitis or ascites.
As with higher vertebrates, the amphibian liver also plays
an important role in the synthesis of nitrogenous compounds,
anti-oxidation reactions, metabolism of various endogenous
and exogenous substances, glucose metabolism, protein syn-
thesis, lipid metabolism, and iron metabolism (Crawshaw
& Weinkle 2000).
URINARY SYSTEM
Amphibians have mesonephric kidneys that are unable to
concentrate urine above the solute concentration of the
plasma (Wright 2001c). A urinary bladder, which is bilobed
in many caecilians, forms embryologically as an evagination
of the cloaca. Urine passes from the kidney tubules into the
collecting duct, into the cloaca, and then into the bladder.
Thus urine is not expected to be sterile.
Amphibians excrete a variety of nitrogen wastes, based
on habitat and the need to conserve water. Larvae and most
aquatic adults excrete ammonia through the kidneys, skin,
and gills, if present (Stebbins & Cohen 1995; Wright 2001c,
2001d). Terrestrial species convert toxic ammonia to less
toxic urea in the liver. Urea can be stored in the bladder
and excreted when water is readily available. Very special-
ized anurans, such as the waxy treefrog (Phyllomedusa
sauvagii), are uricotelic, meaning they further conserve
water by converting nitrogen wastes to uric acid. The
clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) can convert from ammonia
production to urea production based on the availability of
water in the environment (Mitchell et al. 1988; Stebbins &
Cohen 1995; Wright 2001c, 2001d).
REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
Amphibians have paired ovaries or testes. In the male, sperm
travels from the testes, through the Wolffian duct, to the
cloaca. In the female, follicles develop on the ovaries and,
following rupture, the ova are released into the celom. Cilia
in the celom direct the ova into the infundibulum and then
into the oviduct (Stebbins & Cohen 1995; Wright 2001c).
A notable anatomic feature of bufonid frogs is a Bidders
organ. This structure is a remnant of ovarian tissue found
on the testes, and immature ova are evident histologically.
This should not be interpreted as hermaphroditism (Green
2001; Stebbins & Cohen 1995; Wright 2001c).
Sexual dimorphism is present in some amphibians, but
absent in many. Of the species commonly encountered
in practice the following guidelines may be observed. In
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the bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana), males have larger tympanic
membranes than females; male Whites treefrogs (Pelodryas
caerulea) develop nuptial pads during breeding season whereas
females do not; the male dyeing poison frog (Dendrobates
tinctorius) has large triangular toes, the female has smaller,
more rounded toe tips, and the mature male red-eyed
treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas) is smaller than the female
(Stebbins & Cohen 1995; Wright 2001c).
Gonad activity and size fluctuate with reproductive
state. Depending on the species, breeding season may be
influenced by temperature, rainfall, or changes in day
length. Vocalization of other individuals may also con-
tribute to breeding synchrony among anurans (Stebbins &
Cohen 1995).
Caecilians copulate and fertilize internally. The everted
cloaca of the male forms the phallodeum, and deposits
sperm into the females cloaca (Stebbins & Cohen 1995;
Wright 2001c). Approximately 75% of the caecilians are
viviparous (Mitchell et al. 1988) and the oviductal lining
may be consumed by the developing young as a food source
(Wright 2001c).
A great majority of the salamanders are internal fer-
tilizers. The males lack an intromittent organ, and instead
deposit sperm packets, or spermatophores, on the sub-
strate. The female picks up these packets through the
cloacal opening and they are stored in the cloaca until egg
laying. The exceptions are the Asiatic land salamanders
(Hynobiidae) and the giant salamanders (Cryptobranchi-
dae), which release sperm onto the egg mass once it is
deposited outside the body (Stebbins & Cohen 1995;
Wright 2001c).
The number and size of the ova produced vary greatly
among species. The ova are typically surrounded by a
translucent, gelatinous envelope and deposited in clusters
in fresh water or moist terrestrial habitats. Melanic pig-
mentation of the ova is thought to protect against UV
radiation and concentrate heat to warm them (Stebbins &
Cohen 1995). Incubation duration varies from hours
(24 hours for the black toad, Atelopus spp.) to several
months. At the time of hatching, glands on the snouts of
the larvae produce enzymes that dissolve the egg capsules.
The duration of the larval stage depends on species and
temperature (Stebbins & Cohen 1995; Wright 2001c).
ENDOCRINE SYSTEM
The endocrine system of amphibians has been well studied
as a representative model for the vertebrate world, on
account of the organs being very similar to those in reptiles,
birds, and mammals. However, while the function of the
various endocrine organs is similar to other vertebrates, the
actual secretory products often have significant structural
differences from their analogues in other vertebrates (Goin
et al. 1978; Wright 2001c).
The adrenal glands of amphibians are found in close asso-
ciation with the kidneys, although their exact location
varies tremendously with the species. Like reptiles and birds,
the adrenal gland appears homogenous on cut surface, and
histologically it is comprised of intermingled cortical and
medullary elements, rather than having the clear delineation
between cortex and medulla seen in mammalian species.
The adrenal gland produces corticosteroids, adrenaline
(epinephrine), and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) (Goin
et al. 1978; Wright 2001c).
The thyroid is primarily responsible for controlling meta-
morphosis of larval amphibians, and like other vertebrates
produces tri-iodothyronine (T3) and tetra-iodothyronine
(T4). The thyroid gland is also responsible for the control
of ecdysis. The hypothalamus is responsible for controlling
pituitary gland secretion of thyroid stimulating hormone
(TSH), which in turn controls production of T3 and T4.
Neoteny is due to the failure of the hypothalamus to pro-
duce releasing factors that stimulate the pituitary gland to
produce and release TSH. In facultative neotenic species,
such as the Tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), dete-
riorating environmental conditions will trigger metamor-
phosis by stimulating the hypothalamus to start producing
releasing hormone. However, in obligate neotenic species,
which never undergo metamorphosis in nature, such as the
Mexican axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), only the admin-
istration of thyroxine will result in completion of meta-
morphosis (Goin et al. 1978; Mitchell et al. 1988).
The pituitary gland is also responsible for the production
of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), antidiuretic hor-
mone (ADH), arginine vasotocin (similar to vasopressin in
mammals), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing
hormone, (LH), melanophore-stimulating hormone (MSH),
oxytocin and prolactin. The other endocrine organs (and
their associated secretory products) are the gonads (estro-
gen, progesterone, testosterone), pancreas (insulin), para-
thyroid glands (calcitonin, parathyroid hormone), pineal
body (melatonin), ultimobranchial bodies (calcitonin), and
the thymus (thymosin) (Holz et al. 2002; Wright 2001c).
NERVOUS SYSTEM
The amphibian nervous system has been well studied for
decades in a laboratory setting. As with all vertebrates a
central and a peripheral nervous system exists. The brain is
slightly more evolved than that of a fish, with only modest
integrative capacity compared with the brain of avian or
mammalian species. The medulla oblongata controls most
of the bodily activities, while the cerebellum is responsible
for controlling equilibrium, rather than fine motor coor-
dination as seen in more developed tetrapod classes. The
greatest brain development is for basic functions such as
vision, hearing and olfaction (Goin et al. 1978; Mitchell et
al. 1988).
There is considerable debate over whether there are 10
or 12 pairs of cranial nerves (CN), with those that are pro-
ponents of the lesser number classifying the spinal acces-
sory nerve (CN XI) and the hypoglossal nerve (CN XII) as
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spinal nerves instead (Duellman & Trueb 1986; Goin et al.
1978; Mitchell et al. 1988). The spinal cord of caecilians
and urodeles extends to the tip of the tail, while in anurans
it ends in the lumbar region, with bundles of spinal nerves
continuing through the spinal canal to form a cauda equina.
As with higher vertebrates, there are enlargements of the
spinal cord in the caudal cervical and lumbar regions, asso-
ciated with limb movement, and development of brachial
and inguinal plexi in amphibians with well-developed limbs
(Goin et al. 1978; Wright 2001c).
The larval stages and aquatic adult forms of amphibians
possess a lateral line system, which is absent in terrestrial
amphibians. Lateral line nerves, derived from the cranial
nerves, innervate this series of pressure-sensitive receptors
on the head and along the sides of the body. The lateral line
is responsible for perception of low-frequency vibrations and
functions to detect stationary or moving objects by wave reflec-
tion (Goin et al. 1978; Mitchell et al. 1988; Wright 1996).
Senses
Hearing
Auditory structures vary greatly among amphibians, and in
particular, the anurans have very well developed ear struc-
tures. An outer ear is lacking, and the tympanic membrane
is responsible for transmission of high-frequency sounds to
the bony columella in the middle ear, which then transfers
it to the sensory patches in the membranous labyrinth of
the inner ear. In many amphibian species, low-frequency
sounds are transmitted to the inner ear by an opercular
bone that receives the vibrations from the forelimbs (Goin
et al. 1978; Mitchell et al. 1988; Wright 1996).
Sight
Ocular structures are well developed in amphibians, with
the exception of caecilians and many cave-dwelling sala-
manders, and there has been further evolutionary develop-
ment of tear glands and eyelids in terrestrial species. In
order to accommodate, the lens is moved toward or away
from the cornea, rather than changing the shape of the lens
as in mammals. Pupillary diameter adapts to changes in
environmental light; however, the iris is composed of striated
muscle under voluntary control, which makes assessment
of pupillary light responses problematic for the clinician.
The retina of most terrestrial amphibians is complex, but
vision in most amphibians is based on pattern recognition in
the visual field rather than visual acuity. Several types of
retinal ganglion cells respond to different features in the
visual field, allowing the amphibian to construct a crude
but useful picture of its surroundings. Approximately 90%
of the visual information is processed in the retina, while
only 10% is passed on to the optic lobes reflex centers. This
well-developed retina is thought to compensate for the
relatively simple brain (Goin et al. 1978; Mitchell et al.
1988; Whitaker et al. 1999; Wright 1996).
Taste, touch, olfaction
These senses are well developed in amphibians. Taste buds
occur on the tongue, roof of the mouth, and in the mucous
membranes of the mandible and maxilla. Tactile receptors
are scattered throughout the dermis. In addition to the
specialized olfactory epithelium that lines the nasal cavity,
amphibians also possess a sense organ known as Jacobsons
organ. It consists of a pair of epithelial-lined blind-ended
sacs connected by ducts to the nasal cavity and is inner-
vated by a branch of the olfactory nerve. This organ is
responsible for the detection of airborne chemicals, such as
pheromones, and is thought to be important in regulating
behavior rather than just food recognition (Goin et al.
1978; Wright 1996, 2001c).
INTEGUMENT
The integument of the amphibian is arguably one of the
most important organ systems. The skin functions not only
in a protective capacity but also as a sensory organ, and
plays vital roles in thermoregulatory and hydrational home-
ostasis, sex recognition, and reproduction. Heatwole and
Barthalamus (1994) provide an excellent review of the
amphibian integument.
Like that of all vertebrates, the amphibians skin consists
of an epidermal layer and a dermal layer. Although the
epidermis consists of several cell layers, it is considerably
thinner than that of other tetrapods, with the stratum
corneum usually consisting of only a single layer of kera-
tinized cells in most species. In fact, some aquatic sala-
manders lack keratinization of the stratum corneum alto-
gether. Shedding of the stratum corneum occurs regularly,
and most amphibians will eat their skin sheds (Goin et al.
1978; Weldon et al. 1993). The basal epithelium is four to
eight cell layers thick, and is the site of epidermal regen-
eration. Although the epidermis provides some protection
from abrasive substrates, the epidermis is easily damaged if
the amphibian is improperly handled or is in contact with
inappropriate substrates. The resulting damages from even
an apparently minor injury can have serious consequences
as there is no longer an effective barrier against opportunistic
microorganisms.
The well-vascularized dermis consists of an outer spongy
layer (the stratum spongiosum), and a more compact inner
layer (the stratum compactum). Capillaries, nerves and
smooth muscle are found throughout the dermis. Some
caecilians possess tiny dermal scales, not found in the other
two orders. Three types of chromatophores that are respon-
sible for skin coloration, as well as specialized glands, are
present in the stratum spongiosum. In caecilians and sala-
manders, the stratum compactum contains collagen fibers
that tightly adhere it to the underlying connective tissue,
musculature, and bones, while in anurans there is not a
tight association, resulting in a potential subcutaneous space
for fluid administration. Due to this loose association, anurans
(but not caecilians or salamanders) can appear edematous,
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either as a result of normal water storage or due to patho-
logical processes (Goin et al. 1978; Mitchell et al. 1988;
Wright 1996, 2001c).
A variety of specialized glands are found within the epi-
dermis and dermis. Some glands produce mucous or waxy
substances to reduce evaporative water loss, as previously
described. The dermis also contains numerous glands that
produce toxic or irritating substances as protective mecha-
nisms. Many of the glandular secretions of caecilians, sala-
manders, and anurans can be irritating to the mucous mem-
Amphibian anatomy and physiology
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When handling amphibians there is always some damage done
to the epithelium; therefore, it is recommended that lightly
moistened, powder-free latex or nitrile gloves be worn to
minimize damage to the sensitive skin and decrease the
transfer of microorganisms, or potentially noxious substances,
from the hands of the clinician (Fig. 1.12).
CLINICAL NOTE
Amphibians are exquisitively sensitive to many toxic
compounds at levels much lower than those that would cause
clinical effects in higher vertebrates. It is also important to
note that, owing to the thin nature of the epithelium, the skin
represents an effective route for treatment in most
amphibians, allowing topical administration of anesthetics such
as MS-222 (tricaine methane sulfonate) or antibiotic, with
resulting systemic effects (Whitaker et al. 1999; Whitaker &
Wright 2001; Wright 1996, 2001c).
CLINICAL NOTE
The irritating, or even highly toxic, secretions from some
amphibians are another reason why latex or nitrile gloves
should be worn by the clinician, and in some cases eye
protection also may be prudent (Goin et al. 1978; Mitchell et
al. 1988; Whitaker et al. 1999; Wright 1996, 2001a, 2001c).
CLINICAL NOTE
branes of humans, while other amphibians, such as the
arrow poison frogs (Dendrobates and Phyllobates spp.),
produce steroidal alkaloid toxins that are potentially lethal
to people. Some species, such as the fire salamander
(Salamandra salamandra), can actually spray poison from
dorsal glands, whereas others, such as the giant toad (Bufo
marinus), have large parotid glands on the back of the neck
that may spurt several feet when pressure is applied.
True scales and claws are lacking in amphibians, although
some species have modified cornified epidermal claw-like
structures, as seen in the African clawed frog (Xenopus
laevis) and some salamanders, such as Onchydactylus spp.
Other amphibians have different modifications, such as the
cornified areas on the feet of Spadefoot toads (Scaphiopus
spp. and Pelobates spp.) (Goin et al. 1978; Mitchell et al.
1988; Wright 1996, 2001c).
KEY POI NTS
The class name refers to the dual life stages: aquatic and
terrestrial.
Amphibians have a three-chambered heart (two atria and
a ventricle).
Aquatic larval forms use external gills for respiration and
tend to be herbivorous, whereas terrestrial adults
develop internal lungs and are carnivorous.
All are poikilotherms (ectotherms).
Gloves should be worn when handling amphibians to
prevent damage to the patient and the handler.
A specialized sensory organ in the oral cavity (Bidders
organ) is responsible for chemodetection.
Most larval forms and some adult forms retain the ability
to regenerate amputated tails, digits, and limbs.
Phlebotomy sites include the heart, the ventral abdominal
vein, the femoral vein, the lingual plexus, and the ventral
tail vein (when present).
Figure 1.12 Northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens) being appropriately
handled with gloves. (Photo by Whiteside.)
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In K. M. Wright & B. R. Whitaker (eds.), Amphibian medicine and
captive husbandry. Malabar, Fla.: Krieger Publishing. pp. 314.
Wright, K. M. (2001c) Anatomy for the clinician. In K. M. Wright &
B. R. Whitaker (eds.), Amphibian medicine and captive
husbandry. Malabar, Fla.: Krieger Publishing. pp. 1530.
Wright, K. M. (2001d) Applied Physiology. In K. M. Wright & B. R.
Whitaker (eds.), Amphibian medicine and captive husbandry.
Malabar, Fla.: Krieger Publishing. pp. 3134.
Wright, K. M., & Whitaker, B. R. (2001) Nutritional disorders.
In K. M. Wright & B. R. Whitaker (eds.), Amphibian medicine
and captive husbandry. Malabar, Fla.: Krieger Publishing.
pp. 7387.
Zuasti, A., Jimenez-Cervantes, C., Garcia-Borron, J. C., & Ferrer, C.
(1998) The melanogenic system of Xenopus laevis. Archives of
Histology and Cytology 61(4), 305316.
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INTRODUCTION
Reptiles evolved from their amphibian ancestors about 250
million years ago (Evans 1986) and are now found on all
continents except Antarctica. Some species like the Com-
mon adder (Vipera berus) and European lizard (Lacerta
vivipara) can even be found as far north as the arctic circle.
Chelonians (and the tuatara) are the oldest living reptiles
and have been around for over 200 million years, while
snakes are the most recent arrivals (Evans 1986). Unlike
amphibians, which need to return to water to breed, reptiles
can live independently of water and so can survive in a
wider range of habitats, including arid desert conditions.
They have achieved this by evolving scales to conserve water,
laying amniotic eggs, and excreting insoluble uric acid.
Size
Reptiles have giant species like the Galapagos tortoise
(Geochelone nigra) and anacondas (Eunectes murinus), but
these are only found in the tropics. The majority of reptiles
tend to be of smaller body size than mammals and birds,
with most lizards weighing under 20 g (Pough et al. 1998a).
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General anatomy and physiology
of reptiles
The tuatara
The order Rhynchocephalia became virtually extinct over
65 million years ago and there are only two species of the
tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) remaining today (Fig. 2.1).
The word tuatara means peaked back in Maori, referring
to its spiny crest. One species is found on islands off the coast
of New Zealand while the other species is found only on
North Brother Island in the Cook Strait. They are nocturnal,
mainly insectivorous and, unlike other reptiles, which need
temperatures of at least 19 C, can be active at temperatures
as low as 11 C.
The tuatara is the most primitive of living reptiles. It resembles
lizards in general body shape but unlike the other reptiles it
has a fixed quadrate bone and lacks a copulatory organ. They
have uncinate processes on the ribs, like birds, and gastralia
or abdominal ribs, like crocodiles. They also have a much
longer incubation period for the eggs, burying them for up to
15 months (Carroll 1979; Evans 1986; Pough 1998a).
GENERAL INTEREST
Figure 2.1 The tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) belongs to the order Rhynchocephalia and is the most primitive of living reptiles.
Ch02.qxd 3/9/05 2:40 PM Page 17
Order Suborder Common No species
term (approx.)
Chelonia Cryptodira Turtles 295
Pleurodira
Squamata Serpentes (Ophidia) Snakes 2,920
Sauria (Lacertilia) Lizards 4470
Amphisbaenia Worm lizards 156
Rhynchocephalia Tuatara 2
Crocodylia Crocodile 23
Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
TAXONOMY
There are over 7780 species of reptiles in existence today
(Uetz 2000), divided into four orders: Chelonia, Crocodylia,
Rhynchocephalia and Squamata. This book will deal with
the two orders more commonly seen in veterinary practice:
the Chelonia, or shelled species, and the Squamata, which
consists mainly of snakes and lizards (Table 2.1).
UNIQUE ANATOMICAL TRAITS
OF REPTILES
All reptiles have a protective layer of dry skin that has
few glands and is keratinized to form either scales or
scutes. A lipid layer beneath this keratin provides some
resistance to water loss and this has helped them adapt
to terrestrial existence (Lillywhite & Maderson 1982;
Roberts & Lillywhite 1980).
Reptiles only have a single occipital condyle articulating
with the atlas. In contrast to amphibians they have a
well-developed neck, which enables them to scan the
horizon and survive on land (Bellairs 1969a).
Many reptiles, like snakes and lizards, have a kinetic
skull. This means that a large part of the reptile skull
fails to ossify and elastic cartilage allows for movement
between different regions of the skull. Consequently,
reptiles are able to raise their upper jaw like a hinge to
increase gape during feeding. The quadrate bone that
articulates between the upper and lower jaw can also
move freely.
The transition to land has been facilitated by the
development of an amniotic egg, enabling reptiles to
breed independently of water. The production of a
large yolked egg supplies a protective amnion and
allantois for respiration and storage of waste products.
The protective parchment-like shell prevents desiccation,
allowing the embryo to become sufficiently developed
before hatching (King & Custance 1982).
Most reptiles excrete mainly insoluble uric acid instead
of soluble ammonia and urea. This prevents waste
products inside the impermeable egg becoming toxic
to the developing embryo.
With the exception of crocodiles, reptiles have a
3-chambered heart with two atria and one common
ventricle. This allows reptiles to shunt blood either
away or toward the lungs, facilitating thermoregulation
and diving.
METABOLISM
Reptiles have a much slower metabolism than mammals of
similar size, with on average about one fifth to one seventh
the metabolic rate at temperatures of 37 C (Bennett &
Dawson 1976). The metabolic rate is influenced by many
factors: it increases exponentially with rise in body temper-
ature and smaller reptiles have a faster metabolism than
larger ones. It can also vary between species: for example,
the tuatara has one of the lowest metabolic rates whereas
some Varanid (e.g., Varanus gouldii) and Teiid lizards (e.g.,
Ameiva spp.) have higher metabolic rates than most other
lizards (Bennett, AF 1972; Espinoza & Tracy 1997).
Metabolism also depends on diet and predation behavior.
Passive sit and wait reptiles, like pythons and boas, that
wait to ambush their food as it passes by, have a much lower
metabolism. In order to conserve energy their gastrointestinal
tract shuts down in the months between each feed but they
then experience a 7 to 17-fold (depending on species) increase
in metabolic rate to help them digest their prey (Secor &
Diamond 1995; Secor & Nagy 1994). Active predators, such
as insectivorous lizards, that seek and hunt their prey,
have higher metabolic rates and, as they feed daily, expend
their energy maintaining their gut functions all the time
(Secor & Diamond 1995; Secor & Nagy 1994).
Herbivorous species gain less energy from plant tissues
and their digestive efficiency is 3085% in contrast to
7095% in carnivores. However, they spend a lot less time
and energy acquiring their food than do the active foragers.
Anaerobic metabolism
Although aerobic metabolism utilizes energy more effi-
ciently, the aerobic capacities of reptiles are much lower
than endothermic mammal and birds. Reptiles switch to
anaerobic metabolism for vigorous activities like diving,
sprinting, chasing prey or escaping predation. This is inde-
pendent of temperature but is a very high drain on energy
reserves (up to 10 times).
During anaerobic exercise glycogen stored in the muscle
is quickly broken down into lactate. As lactate is slow to be
eliminated in reptiles they rapidly become fatigued and this
is why reptiles can only sustain short bursts of intense
activity. The increased lactate causes a drop in blood pH.
This decreases the oxygen affinity of hemoglobin (Bohr
effect) and consequently delays oxygen transport, further
increasing the need for anaerobic metabolism (Bennett &
Dawson 1976; Pough et al. 1998d).
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Table 2.1 Taxonomy and classification of reptiles (Uetz 2000)
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THERMOREGULATION
Reptiles are ectothermic (Fig. 2.2), that is, they are unable
to generate their own body heat and so rely on external
sources to regulate their body temperature. This basically
means that reptiles draw their heat from their environment
and not from their food. Some metabolic heat is produced
but the poor insulation due to the lack of fur and body fat
means it cannot be retained. Thermogenesis is only reported
in two species: the giant leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys
coriacea), which can retain heat because it has large amounts
of body fat, and incubating female Indian pythons (Python
molorus), which generate heat by muscle contractions
(Bartholomew 1982; Bennett & Dawson 1976; Gregory
1982; Seymour 1982).
Advantages of ectothermy
The advantage of ectothermy is that reptiles do not waste
energy maintaining their body temperature. While a small
mammal, like a mouse, has high energy demands, a reptile
of the same size will have just a tenth of the energy require-
ments. In fact, the food required by a small avian insec-
tivore for 1 day would last a lizard of equivalent size about
35 days (Bennett & Nagy 1977). This lower food require-
ment and efficient food conversion has enabled reptiles to
adapt to niche environments like arid deserts. It also enables
them to survive hibernation and night cooling much better
than mammals that need energy to keep warm at night
(King 1996a; Pough et al.1998a).
Disadvantages of ectothermy
The main disadvantage of ectothermy is that all activity is
limited by the ambient temperature. This means that the
environmental range of reptiles can be limited and they
become grounded when it is cold or at night. They are also
unable to sustain high levels of activity for long because,
unlike endotherms, they have poor aerobic capacity and
so rapidly switch to anaerobic metabolism. This leads to
fatigue when lactic acid builds up (King 1996a; Pough et al.
1998a).
Control of thermoregulation
Thermoregulation is controlled by the pre-optic nucleus of
the hypothalamus in the brain. This receives blood from
the heart via the internal carotid arteries. Temperature
sensors can then stimulate behavior and physiological behavior
according to the temperature. In lizards, the pineal gland
and, in some species, the parietal eye may also play a role
in regulating body temperature (Firth & Turner 1982; Pough
et al. 1998c).
Preferred optimum temperature zone
The preferred optimum temperature zone (POTZ) is the
temperature range of the reptiles natural habitat (Fig. 2.3).
It can vary by 410 C, depending on the species, but is
usually within a range of 2038 C. The exception is the
tuatara, which has a range of 12.820 C. Within this range,
reptile species will have a preferred body temperature
(PBT) for each metabolic function, like digestion and
reproduction, which varies according to season, age,
pregnancy, etc. (Pough et al. 2002b).
General anatomy and physiology of reptiles
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Figure 2.2 As can be seen by this hemorrhaging Bosc monitor (Varanus
exanthematicus), reptiles are not cold blooded as previously thought but
are ectotherms.
Figure 2.3 All reptiles have a POTZ (preferred optimum temperature
zone) which is the temperature range of their natural habitat. This
cornsnake (Elaphe guttata) has a POTZ of 2530 C.
Ch02.qxd 3/9/05 2:40 PM Page 19
Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Behavioral fever
Sick mammals exposed to bacterial endotoxins release
endogenous pyrogens which act on the hypothalamus to
raise the temperature and create fever. This increase in
temperature helps fight the immune system. Reptiles are
unable to do this, but if ill or exposed to infection they
actively seek extra heat; this is known as behavioral fever
(Firth & Turner 1982).
Mechanisms of thermoregulation
Reptiles derive their heat via heliothermy or thigmothermy,
or a combination of the two. Heliothermy means obtaining
radiant heat by basking in the sun and is used by many
diurnal reptiles, especially lizards. Thigmothermy is com-
mon in nocturnal or forest dwelling species, which acquire
thermal energy via conduction with hot surfaces. The lack
of insulation produced by scales enhances this thermal
conduction (Bellairs 1969c; Espinoza & Tracy 1997).
Effect of heart rate and blood shunting
Reptiles have the ability to heat up faster than they cool
down and this is facilitated by variations in heart rate and
in blood shunting (Bartholomew 1982; White 1976).
The reptile heart rate depends on many factors,
such as temperature, body size and respiration rate.
It increases as the body heats up and with active
respiration but decreases during periods of apnea.
In general, reptile heart rates are much lower than
mammals but they can rise rapidly at high temperatures.
This raised heart rate pumps warm core blood to heat
up the periphery speedily. The reverse happens during
night cooling (Bellairs 1969c; Firth & Turner 1982;
Pough et al. 1998c).
Their 3-chambered heart provides a rapid right to left
cardiac shunt. This enables reptiles to bypass the
evaporative process of the lungs completely and shunt
blood systemically to avoid cooling.
Vasomotor dilation and constriction of peripheral blood
vessels also aids thermoregulation. During the day, the
extremities heat up first and there is peripheral
vasodilation. When temperature drops the heart rate
slows down causing peripheral vasoconstriction, which
results in blood being diverted rapidly to the core to
prevent further heat loss (Pough et al. 1998c).
Body mass and shape
Many smaller reptiles have a high ratio of surface area to
body weight and so lose and absorb heat rapidly. Large
species have thermal inertia, that is, they take a long time
to heat up and cool down, which enables them to resist
rapid temperature change (Espinoza & Tracy 1997).
Reptiles can alter their body shape so that temperature
can vary considerably along the body. In order to avoid
exposing whole body parts to predators when it is cool,
many lizards heat up their heads first in the morning and
the body later. They can also lie flat on rocks for maximum
heat exchange and elevate themselves onto their toes to
reduce heat conduction and cool down in the hot desert
sun. They also angle the long axis of their body perpendi-
cular to the suns rays to gain maximum heat, and face the
sun when they want to cool down (Bellairs 1969c; Pough
et al. 1998a; White 1976).
Behavior
Snakes and lizards tend to use much greater behavioral
thermoregulation than chelonians, which have the shell to
help retain heat. Snakes coil up to conserve heat and uncoil
to cool down. Lizards select a dark background to heat up
or even darken their skin by increasing melanin pigment at
the skin surface (Espinoza & Tracy 1997). This darkened
skin increases light absorption, which then converts into
heat. Many lizards cool down by panting or gular fluttering,
which is when they hold their mouth open and vibrate their
throat, causing evaporation of water and cooling of the
blood in this area (Bartholomew 1982).
Heat can also be lost by seeking shade, plunging into
water or climbing higher in the trees to avail of the cooler
convection currents. Some desert tortoises, which are unable
to seek shade in rocks and crevices as easily as snakes and
lizards, hypersalivate and even urinate for emergency cooling
by evaporation (Bellairs 1969c; Minnich 1982).
Lighting
Ultraviolet light is important for behavior and vitamin D
3
metabolism. UVA (320400 nm) affects behavior and well-
being and helps trigger reproduction. UVB (290320 nm)
is necessary for the conversion of provitamin D
3
to pre-
vitamin D
3
(Fig. 2.4) and so is essential for calcium metabo-
lism. Unlike mammals, reptiles utilize cholecalciferol (vita-
min D
3
) rather than ergocalciferol (vitamin D
2
), so when
supplementing reptiles only reptile vitamin supplements
should be used. Where possible, the best source of UV
light is unfiltered natural sunlight because artificial lighting
cannot compare to the UV light from the sun (Boyer 1996).
HIBERNATION
Reptiles, having limited thermogenesis, rely totally on their
environmental temperature. This means that reptiles
inhabiting temperate climates and high altitudes have to
hibernate when the temperature drops. However, some
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In order to be able to heat up and cool down a wild reptile
follows a temperature gradient. For example, lizards will
shuttle between basking in the sun to warm up and seeking
shade to cool down. Consequently, in captivity both adequate
temperature gradients and facilities to heat up and cool down
must be provided (Barten 1996).
CLINICAL NOTE
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species living at tropical high altitudes can absorb enough
solar radiation by day to enable them to remain active and
feed, even during the winter months (Gregory 1982).
Trigger factors to hibernation
In contrast to mammals, where hibernation is a survival
mechanism triggered by scarce food supplies, hibernation
in reptiles is governed mainly by temperature. The lack of
internal thermogenesis, brown fat or shivering mechanisms
makes this essential when the temperature drops. Captive
reptiles, therefore, may not hibernate if kept in a warm
environment. However, other factors like photoperiod,
reproduction, food supply and body size also play a role,
and endogenous rhythms may also play a part. In the wild,
hibernation patterns can vary between the same species in
different climatic ranges and even among different ages and
sexes of same species (Gregory 1982).
Stages of Hibernation
1. Falling temperatures inhibit appetite.
2. The reptile seeks a hibernaculum. The main
requirements are insulation against freezing (below
the frostline) and some moisture to protect against
desiccation. Oxygen tension is not important as many
are tolerant of hypoxia.
3. Fat is stored in the liver, fat bodies of the celom, and
tail and is the main energy source during and after
hibernation. Metabolism slows down so that very little
energy is actually used during the hibernation period.
The main draw on lipid reserves is when the reptile
emerges in spring.
4. Emergence from hibernation is triggered by rising
temperatures and many will emerge early if the
temperature improves. Photoperiod plays no role as
most reptiles hibernate underground (Gregory 1982).
Hibernation and reproduction
The low temperature of hibernation helps synchronize the
reproductive cycles together. Rising temperatures are also
the cue for mating in spring and the males often emerge first.
Reptiles that hibernate in a communal den often mate before
dispersal. In some species appetite will not return until the
mating process is over, so fat stores must last until then.
General anatomy and physiology of reptiles
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Figure 2.4 Ultraviolet light is necessary for the conversion of provitamin
D3 to previtamin D3 so is essential for calcium absorption.
A healthy tortoise emerging from hibernation should not have
lost more than 10% of its body weight. This can be accounted
for by (mainly) water loss but also some reduction in glycogen
and lipids (Gregory 1982).
CLINICAL NOTE
Aquatic hibernation
Water is very dense at the bottom of a pond and so does not
freeze. Some freshwater turtles such as Trionyx spp. hiber-
nate at the bottom of ponds during the winter months.
They utilize anaerobic metabolism and breathe dissolved
oxygen in the water through their skin (Seymour 1982).
Estivation
Inactivity during the dry season, estivation, is a strategy
used by reptiles in hot deserts to conserve water. Trigger
factors for estivation could be high temperatures or drought.
Some turtles leave the water when it runs dry and bury
themselves on land. During this process there will be
progressive weight loss due to water and electrolyte loss.
KEY POI NTS
Reptiles, being ectotherms, are very dependent on their
environment and this must be taken into account for
those in captivity.
Reptiles have 1/10 the food requirements of birds and
mammals of equivalent size.
The trigger for hibernation in reptiles is the fall in
temperature.
Not more than 10% body weight should be lost during
hibernation.
SKELETAL SYSTEM
Bone structure
The mammalian haversian bone system allows for rapid
remodeling of bone and the capacity for speedy transfer
of calcium from plasma to bone. Such systems are lacking
in lizards and snakes and are restricted to only certain
cortical areas in crocodiles and chelonians (Enlow 1970).
Therefore, remodeling is less a feature of bone healing in
reptiles with less periosteal new bone. Bone healing is also
much slower and it can take 6 to 30 months for full bone
union.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Calcium / phosphorus
The bone contains about 99% of the bodys calcium store
(Boyer 1996). Plasma calcium must be maintained for
vertebrate neuromuscular function so that, when ionized
calcium drops, parathyroid hormone (PTH) increases and
acts on bone to produce calcium and phosphorus. It also
increases phosphorous excretion and stimulates further
absorption of cholecalciferol from the small intestine. When
plasma calcium levels are high calcitonin antagonizes PTH
and stops calcium resorption from bone.
Nutritional osteodystrophies (metabolic bone disease)
develop if the dietary input of calcium in captivity is not
sufficient to replenish the bone reservoirs (Figs. 2.5 and 2.6).
Reptiles have a Ca/P ratio of 2:1 but as they are commonly
fed a diet rich in meat or insects, which have an inverse
Ca/P ratio, metabolic bone disease is common. Herbivore
diets are also low in calcium and phosphorus. Adult snakes
that eat whole vertebrate prey rarely suffer from this prob-
lem, although it can be seen in juveniles (Boyer 1996).
Reptile growth
In reptiles such as chelonians, snakes, and crocodiles the
epiphyses never close so there is no skeletal maturity and
some species keep growing all their lives. Lizards, however,
do have secondary centers of ossification, like mammals,
although these occur at a much later stage (Bellairs 1969a;
Haines 1970). The rate of growth is much more variable
than in mammals and will depend on food supplies, tem-
perature and other environmental factors. Some reptiles,
like pythons, can growth at a phenomenal rate in the early
growth years.
Skull
The reptile orders have been classified into two subclasses
based on the presence or absence of openings (fenestrae) in
the temporal region of the skull (Fig. 2.7). These lie behind
the eyes and provide better attachment points for the jaw
musculature.
Chelonians belong to the subclass Anapsida (without
arches) because they lack true temporal openings. How-
ever, many species do have gaps in the temporal region that
provide a pseudotemporal fossa for muscle attachments.
The tuatara, crocodiles and squamates all belong to the
subclass Diapsida. Crocodiles and the tuatara have a true
diapsid skull with a dorsal and lateral opening. Lizards have
only one dorsal opening while snakes have an even more
modified diapsid skull, having completely lost the upper
temporal arch between the two openings (Bellairs 1969b;
Carroll 1979; Pough 1998f). This has enabled the quadrate
bone to move backwards and forwards in a condition called
streptostyly.
Reptiles, like birds, have a cranial kinetic skull enabling the
mouth to gape wide and this is highly developed in the snake
where the jaw can literally walk along the prey being devoured.
Lizards and crocodiles also have powerful snapping jaws. This
is achieved by the adductor jaw muscles (Fig. 2.8) which
arise from the temporal fossae and insert at right angles to
the open jaw (King 1996b; King & Custance 1982).
Vertebrae
Reptiles do not need a rigid backbone to support the weight
between their limbs as they normally have their belly on
the ground; instead, flexibility of the spine is most important.
As reptiles have no diaphragm, and consequently no divi-
sion between the thorax and abdomen, the terms thoracic
and lumbar are redundant. Instead, the backbone can be
divided into a presacral, sacral and caudal region. The num-
ber of presacral vertebrae varies from 24 in some lizards, 18
in Chelonia to 200400 in snakes (Hoffstetter & Gasc
1970). The epaxial muscles lie dorsally while the hypaxial
muscles are usually lodged ventrally and between the ribs.
The atlas and axis are more rigidly connected together
than in mammals so the main center of movement is between
the single occipital condyle and the backbone. Apart from
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Figure 2.5 Nutritional osteodystrophy (commonly called metabolic bone
disease) in a Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) fed a calcium
deficient diet of prawns and chicken. The shell and limb girdles are
severely demineralized with coarse bone trabeculae and there are thin-
shelled and misshapen eggs (compare with shell in Fig. 3.14).
Ch02.qxd 3/9/05 2:40 PM Page 22
in Chelonia the ribs are well developed and, in addition to
supporting the body wall, they perform the function of
respiration and locomotion (Bellairs 1969a; Hofstetter &
Gasc 1970).
CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
The typical heart of snakes, lizards or chelonia has three
chambers (two atria, one ventricle) whereas crocodiles have
a 4-chambered heart. The right atrium receives deoxygenated
blood from the systemic circulation via the sinus venosus.
This is a large chamber that receives blood from the right
and left cranial vena cava and left hepatic vein. There are
also two aortae. The left aorta gives rise to a celiac, cranial
mesenteric, and left gastric artery before uniting with the
right aorta caudal to the heart. A renal portal system is also
present (see Urinary system).
Although reptiles have only one ventricle it has three
subchambers: the cavae venosum, arteriosum and pulmonale.
Although there is no permanent division, the anatomical
arrangement of the two atria, atrioventricular (a-v) valves,
a muscular ridge, and the three subchambers creates a
pressure differential. This, combined with the timing of
ventricular contractions, means oxygenated and deoxy-
genated blood never actually mixes in the reptile heart
(King & Custance 1982; Murray 1996a; White 1976).
The right atrium opens into the cavum venosum which
gives rise at its ventral aspect to the paired aortas. The left
atrium receives blood from the lungs via the left and right
pulmonary vein and empties into the cavum arteriosum.
The cavum pulmonale is the equivalent of the right ven-
tricle in mammals and opens into the pulmonary artery. A
muscular ridge partially separates this compartment from
the cavum venosum and can redirect the blood flow (Pough
et al. 2002a).
Normal intracardiac blood flow
Deoxygenated blood flows from the right atrium into the
cavum venosum while oxygenated blood flows into the left
atrium and cavum arteriosum. When the atria contract the
a-v valves hinge medially to direct the flow of deoxygenated
blood from the cavum venosum into the cavum pulmonale.
When the ventricle contracts blood flows into the pulmonary
General anatomy and physiology of reptiles
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Figure 2.6 Nutritional osteodystrophy in a juvenile Green iguana (Iguana iguana). The bone cortices are thin and shell-like with complete
demineralization of such extremities as the feet and transverse processes of the tail (see close up of right foot and compare with normal skeleton in
Fig. 4.12).
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
artery. The a-v valves close over allowing the oxygenated
blood from the cavum arteriosum to flow into the cavum
venosum and out into the aortic arches. The muscular ridge
between the cavum pulmonale and cavum venosum
prevents mixing of blood (Pough et al. 1998d, 2002a;
White 1976).
Blood shunting
The circulation can be shunted depending on pulmonary resis-
tance. During peak respiratory activity pulmonary resistance
is low so deoxygenated blood flows through the pulmonary
arch to the lungs while oxygenated blood travels systemically.
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pa
po
ju
qj
q
pa
po
ju
qj
sq
ty
q
po
stf
ju
sq
q
itf
qj
po
stf
sq
itf ju
Anapsid
(ancestral reptile species)
Modified Diapsid
(lizards and snakes)
Modified Anapsid
(chelonia)
Diapsid
(tuatara, crocodiles)
pa
pa
q
q
pa
sq
po
stf
itf
ju
qj
ty
= quadrate bone
= parietal bone
= squamosal bone
= post orbital
= superior temporal fossa
= inferior temporal fossa
= jugal bone
= quadratojugal
= tympanic fossa
sq
(a)
(b)
(c)
(d)
Figure 2.7 Diagram of skull.
(a) Anapsid (ancestral reptile species)
(b) Modified anapsid (chelonians)
(c) Diapsid (tuatara, crocodiles)
(d) Modified diapsid (lizards, snakes)
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In reptiles, which routinely experience periods of oxygen
starvation (e.g., when turtles dive or snakes swallow large
prey), the muscular ridge and a-v valves can divert blood
away from the pulmonary circulation, where it is not
needed, into the aortic arches and the systemic circulation.
This right to left intracardiac shunt reduces blood flow to
the lungs. This means less oxygen will be lost from the
circulation and blood pressure will not drop as it passes
through the capillaries of the lung.
Control of shunting
Shunting of blood is controlled by the differences in pres-
sure between the pulmonary circuit and the systemic one.
Normally the lungs provide little resistance to flow and the
valves open first so blood flows through the lungs. How-
ever, during diving or apnea, vasoconstriction in the pul-
monary arteries increases pulmonary resistance so blood is
consequently shunted away from the lungs to the systemic
circulation (Pough 1998d; White 1976).
Heart rate
Heart rate varies with temperature, body size, respiration
and stress. Larger sized reptiles have lower heart rates. It
can also vary with activities like diving or breathholding
(Murray 1996a). The Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta)
normally sends 60% of its blood flow to the lungs but while
diving the majority of blood bypasses the lungs and enters
the systemic network via the aortic arches. The heart rate
slows down and total cardiac output falls. When the animal
surfaces this is rapidly reversed in the first post-dive breath.
(White 1976). This state can also occur even in terrestrial
reptiles during apnea. Tortoises have been recorded to
breathhold for 33 hours and even lizards like the iguana can
breathhold for 30 minutes under water to escape predators
(Pough et al. 1998d; White 1976).
Blood volume
The normal blood volume is approximately 5 to 8% of body
weight. In a healthy reptile about 10% of this could be
safely taken for blood sampling. The time of year, sex, and
environment play a major role in hematological and bio-
chemical blood parameters.
Blood cells
Reptile erythrocytes are nucleated and the lower metabolic
rate of reptiles means they have a longer life span than
mammals and birds (Bellairs 1969c; Campbell 1996). The
hematocrit (average 2035%) does not vary with high alti-
tudes or hypoxia, as it does in mammals, but varies instead
with temperature and season.
The white blood cells include heterophils (the equivalent
of mammalian neutrophils), eosinophils, basophils, lympho-
cytes, and monocytes. Azurophils are unique to reptiles
they are similar to monocytes but have a red-purple cyto-
plasm and are a feature particularly of snakes (Campbell
1996; Redrobe & MacDonald 1999).
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Depressor
mandibulae
External
adductor
Pterygoideus
muscle
Figure 2. 8 Lateral view of reptile skull and jaw showing adductor muscles.
Ability to breath-hold while diving or inside shell
Thermoregulation
Stabilization of oxygen levels during intermittent breathing
ADVANTAGES OF INTRACARDIAC SHUNTING
The ability of reptiles to divert blood away from the lungs via
right to left shunts presents problems for anesthesia. It may
also mean that chronic pneumonia or lung damage, which
increase lung resistance, may also divert blood away from
where it is most needed.
CLINICAL NOTE
Reptile erythrocytes are susceptible to lysis by EDTA
anticoagulant. Lithium heparin is better for preventing clotting
and preserving cell morphology, although fresh blood smears
should always be made as well.
CLINICAL NOTE
IMMUNE SYSTEM
The lymphatic system is more highly developed than the
venous system in reptiles. Although they lack lymph nodes,
reptiles have vast plexiform lymphatic networks and large
dilated reservoirs (cisternae) that occur at the sites of
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
mammalian lymph nodes. These are pumped by lymph
hearts, which are smooth muscle dilations in the lymphatic
channels located in the caudal part of the trunk. The main
connection with the venous system occurs at the base of
the neck where a saccular precardiac sinus passes lymph to
the venous system (Ottaviani & Tazzi 1977).
The major lymphatic trunks are the jugular, subclavian,
lumbar and thoracic. The jugular trunk drains the head and
neck, the subclavian the forelimbs, the lumbar the hind-
limbs, and the thoracic drains the trunk and celom. Both
the lumbar and thoracic form a lymphatic dilation called
the cisterna chyli.
The bone marrow, spleen, thymus and lymphatic system
all play a part in immunoregulation. The paired thymus
gland does not involute, although weight and size decrease
with age (Bockman 1970). One or two yellow or white lobes
are found on each side of the neck in lizards and chelonia
and just cranial to the heart in snakes.
Lower respiratory tract
Apart from gaseous exchange the lungs also play a role in
display, buoyancy and vocalization (Perry & Duncker 1978).
The lining of the respiratory tract has a primitive mucociliary
apparatus, resulting in reptiles being poor at clearing inflam-
matory exudates from their lungs (Murray 1996c). In com-
parison to mammals, the lung volume of reptiles is quite
large but they have only about 1% of the lung surface area
of a mammal of equal size (Wood & Lenfant 1976). In aquatic
species this larger lung volume may aid in buoyancy and act
as an oxygen reservoir.
Reptiles have no diaphragm and so the combined pleuro-
peritoneal cavity is called the celom. More advanced species
have a postpulmonary septum, which is a membrane that
divides the pleural cavity from the peritoneal cavity. The
lung parenchyma is simple and saclike and has a honey-
comb network of faveoli, which are the reptilian unit of
gaseous exchange (Perry 1989).
Reptile lungs are classified into three anatomical types
according to the degree of partitioning of the lungs. The
most primitive single-chambered (unicameral) lungs are
found in snakes and some lizards. Paucicameral, found in
iguanas and chameleons, have a few chambers but lack
an intrapulmonary bronchus. The most advanced are the
multichambered (multicameral) lungs found in monitor
lizards, chelonia and crocodiles (Perry 1989; Perry & Duncker
1978). Many reptiles also have smooth muscles in the lung
wall, which helps them inspire and expire air (Perry &
Duncker 1978; Seymour 1982).
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Lymphdilution is a common contaminant of blood samples as
the lymphatic system is so intimately associated with the
blood. Dilution of blood samples will mainly affect the packed
cell volume (PCV) and white cell count so a very low PCV
should always be carefully evaluated.
CLINICAL NOTE
The normal respiration rate is 10 to 20 breaths per minute,
but this will vary with temperature and the reptiles size.
CLINICAL NOTE
Gular gulping or fluttering is not respiration but an olfactory
process in chelonians and is used for courtship and territorial
display in some lizard species. It is also used for evaporative
cooling by vibrating the throat tissues to cool the blood
passing through (Gans & Hughes 1967; McCutcheon 1943;
Wood & Lenfant 1976).
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POI NTS
Snakes and lizards have a kinetic skull, which allows a
wide gape.
Metabolic bone disease is common in lizards and chelonia
but not in adult snakes.
The single ventricle allows blood to be shunted away
from the lungs while diving or breathholding.
Reptile erythrocytes are nucleated.
Reptiles have a highly developed lymphatic system so
lymphdilution of blood samples is common.
RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Upper respiratory tract
In lizards the internal nostrils lie rostrally so that incoming
air passes through the mouth on the way to the larynx.
Snakes, however, have evolved a method of protruding the
glottis and trachea out of the mouth while feeding.
Chelonia and crocodiles (and some lizards) have developed
a hard palate, which separates the air stream from the oral
cavity.
The glottis in reptiles is situated quite rostrally, making
them a relatively easy animal to intubate. The glottis remains
closed at rest, opening only for respiration by the action of
a glottis dilator muscle. Vocal cords are absent and sounds
like hissing are produced by rapidly expelling air (Liem et
al. 2001).
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Ventilation
Despite their lack of a diaphragm reptiles draw air into
their lungs by negative pressure breathing (Liem et al. 2001).
A feature of all reptiles is a triphasic respiratory cycle of
expiration, inspiration, and relaxation, which means oxygen
concentrations in the lungs are constantly fluctuating. The
relaxation or breathholding phase can be very long in aquatic
species, lasting from 30 minutes up to 33 hours (Pough et
al. 1998d; Wood & Lenfant 1976).
Reptiles can survive considerable periods at low oxygen levels
as they are capable of converting to anaerobic metabolism while
they breathhold. This tolerance to hypoxia seems to depend on
the myocardium and ability to buffer lactic acid (Murray 1996c).
DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
The reptile digestive tract is much shorter than that in
birds and mammals and can vary from the simple tract of
carnivorous species to the larger colons and cecum of her-
bivores. Carnivores use primarily fats and protein as food
sources while herbivores utilize soluble carbohydrate and
fermented fiber. Omnivores require a mix of fat, protein,
and carbohydrate.
Dentition
Like mammals, reptile teeth are composed of enamel, den-
tine, and cement but lack a periodontal membrane. Three
types of teeth exist, depending on feeding habits of the
reptile: acrodont, pleurodont and thecodont (Table 2.2)
(Fig. 2.9). Acrodonts, found in such lizards as water dragons
and chameleons, have teeth attached to the crest of the bone.
Pleurodonts have an eroded lingual side and are attached to
a higher sided labial wall. (This is common in snakes and
lizards like iguanas). Thecodonts are teeth embedded in a
deep bony socket but, unlike in mammals, there is no peri-
odontal membrane. This type is restricted only to croco-
diles (Edmund 1970; King 1996a).
Reptile teeth are resorbed and replaced at a rapid rate
throughout life. This is called polyphyodonty and is essential
as their simple structure means frequent replacement is
necessary to keep them sharp. In many cases the new tooth
lies lingual to the old tooth and replacement occurs in a
wave-like pattern from the back to the front. However,
many acrodont reptiles cease producing new teeth after a
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Reptiles suffering from pneumonia and hypoxia will tend to
seek lower temperatures to reduce the demand for oxygen.
CLINICAL NOTE
As reptiles can survive long periods using anaerobic metabolism
it is possible to revive patients with cardiopulmonary arrest
by ventilating them at least once per minute with oxygen.
Overventilation should not be performed because you run the
risk of raising the PO
2
and depressing respiration further. Reptiles
should be kept at their POTZ to trigger spontaneous respiration.
CLINICAL NOTE
(See Bellairs 1969c; Bennett & Dawson 1976; Seymour 1982;
Wood & Lenfant 1986.)
In most species gas exchange is through the alveolar
epithelium of the lungs but some reptiles can also breathe
through accessory respiratory surfaces.
Skin some soft shell aquatic turtles (e.g., Trionychidae) can
absorb oxygen through their skin and shell during submergence.
Buccalpharyngeal mucosa used by many species of lizard.
Tracheal lung many snakes have a unique saccular
diverticulum that acts in gas exchange.
Cloacal bursae in some freshwater turtles these have a
highly vascular lining, allowing a high rate of oxygen intake
from the water (Liem et al. 2001).
ACCESSORY RESPIRATORY SURFACES
Control of respiration
In mammals the acid base balance and PCO
2
are essential in
controlling respiration. However, as reptiles are very tolerant
of both anoxia and acid base change it is temperature that
is the controlling factor. A rise in temperature increases the
demand for oxygen, stimulating increased tidal volume. High
oxygen tension decreases the respiration rate (Bennett &
Dawson 1976; Murray 1996c; Wood & Lenfant 1976).
KEY POI NTS
Capacity for anaerobic metabolism
Tolerance to acid-base imbalance
Ability to breathhold for long periods
Interventricular blood shunting
Respiration rate varies with temperature and not PCO
2
Type of dentition Site of attachment Examples
Acrodont Crest of bone Some lizards (water
dragon, chameleons)
Pleurodont Labial wall Snakes, some lizards
(iguanas)
Thecodont Deep bony socket Crocodiles
(no periodontal
membrane)
Table 2.2 Reptile dentition (Edmund 1970)
(See Fig. 2.9 for illustrations)
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
certain time, using the remaining teeth and jaw margins
after these have been worn away (Edmund 1970).
Egg tooth
In snakes and lizards the egg tooth is modified from the
normal teeth of the premaxilla and serves to rupture the
embryonic membranes and shell in oviparous reptiles. In
chelonians and crocodiles this is composed only of horny
tissue and is called the egg caruncle.
Gastrointestinal tract
The absence of lips or flexible forelimbs, as in birds, means
that reptiles rely on their jaw, and sometimes the tongue,
to apprehend food. Mastication varies between species but
is far less than in mammals. Reptiles have also evolved a
complex system of oral secretory glands (e.g., palatine, sub-
lingual, mandibular) to help them lubricate their prey.
Many snake species have modified these glands into venom
glands like Duvernoys gland to help immobilize the prey
and prevent damage to the delicate skull.
The stomach is small and contains hydrochloric acid,
which prevents putrefaction, kills live prey, and aids diges-
tion by decalcifying bone (Skoczylas 1978). Gastroliths are
often seen on radiographs but, except in crocodiles, these
may be accidentally ingested and play no role in normal
digestion (Barten 1996). The liver is fairly large and in
snakes it is very elongated. A gall bladder is usually present.
Biliverdin is the main bile pigment; reptiles lack the enzyme
biliverdin reductase which produces bilirubin. A cecum is
prominent in herbivorous reptiles like the tortoise but is
absent in most snakes. Reptiles do not have subcutaneous fat
but store fat as fat bodies in the caudal celom or in the tail.
Cloaca
The rectum ends in a pouch called the cloaca (the Latin
word for sewer). This consists of the anterior chamber
called the copradeum, that collects the feces, a middle
chamber called the urodeum where the ureters and repro-
ductive system enter, and a posterior chamber called the
proctodeum where all the wastes collect prior to excretion.
These cloacal chambers are partially separated by transverse
mucosal folds.
In desert species the cloaca plays an important part in
water conservation. Food is often held in the lower gut for
a minimum period for essential water absorption from
excreta and urinary waste in the colon or cloaca. The final
feces voided contains only the indigestible material like fur,
hair, beaks, claws, eggshells, chitin remnants, and partially
digested grasses (Bellairs 1969c).
Digestion of chitin
The exoskeleton of insects is composed of hard chitin,
which is a polymer of acetylglucosamine and quite resistant
to many chemicals. Insectivorous reptiles however have
chitinolytic enzymes. Chitinase is secreted by the stomach
and pancreas and occurs only in chitin eating species. This
is the most important enzyme as it breaks open the exoskele-
ton and hydrolyzes it firstly into chitobiose and chitotriose
(Skoczylas 1978). This in turn is acted on by the enzyme
chitobiase, which breaks it into free acetylglucosamine. As
this enzyme is not present in all insectivores it may play a
lesser role in digestion. The rate of digestion will depend on
the hardness of the exoskeleton (Skoczylas 1978).
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Acrodont
Pleurodont
Thecodont
(a)
(b)
(c)
Figure 2.9 Reptile dentition.
(a) Acrodont
(b) Pleurodont
(c) Thecodont
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Digestion of plants
Plants contain a lot of indigestible material like cellulose
and lignin and are less susceptible to normal digestive
juices. Hence, other methods like mechanical breakdown
and symbiotic microorganisms have to be used. Herbivores
use their teeth and jaw to mechanically grind their food
and have microorganisms in their large intestine to ferment
the food and break it down into volatile fatty acids. To
facilitate this process they have a larger colon (in both length
and volume) with a longer transit time than carnivorous
species (King 1996c; Lichtenbelt 1992; Troyer 1984). Fiber
is essential in the diet for gut motility. Herbivorous species
also tend to be larger than equivalent carnivorous species
and often show preference for young growing foliage,
which has higher protein content and is more digestible.
Digestive efficiency is, however, much lower than in
carnivores (King 1996b).
URINARY SYSTEM
The kidneys are located in the caudal celom. They are termed
metanephric because they derive from the posterior embryo.
Only chelonians and some lizards have a urinary bladder,
and this is connected to the cloaca by a short urethra. Urine
flows from the ureters into the cloaca and then into the
bladder. Species with no bladder reflux the urine into the
distal colon for water absorption (Davis et al. 1976). The
bladder is often a reservoir of fluid in tortoises and, being
osmotically permeable, substantial water can be reabsorbed
from it in times of drought. Aquatic turtles use their bladder
to help reabsorb sodium and as a buoyancy aid (Bentley
1976; Fox 1977; Minnich 1982).
Reptile kidneys lack a loop of Henle, pelvis, and pyramids.
The reptile nephron consists of a glomerulus, a long, thick
proximal convoluted tubule, a short, thin intermediate seg-
ment, and a shorter distal tubule. In male snakes and lizards
the terminal segment of the kidney has become a sexual
segment. This regresses after castration and is therefore
under androgen control (Palmer et al. 1997).
Osmoregulation
Reptiles gain water mainly by consuming food and water;
unlike amphibians, most reptiles do drink. Tortoises and
snakes suck up fluids whereas lizards can lap with their
tongues. There is also some minor absorption of water
through the skin and by condensation in the nasal passages.
Water is lost from the body mainly by evaporation through
the skin and mucous membranes but also by respiration,
urine and feces. Cutaneous water loss will depend on the
amount of skin keratinization and the size of scales. It is
more common in desert species where there are high tem-
peratures and low water saturation in the air. Shedding of
skin (ecdysis) is also associated with an increased rate of
water loss (Bentley 1976; Minnich 1982).
The reptile body mass is 70% water, which is similar to
mammals but lower than amphibians 7580% (Bentley
1976). Total sodium and potassium are also similar to
mammals but vary between species and habitat. The reptile
kidney removes excess water, salts, and metabolic wastes.
The lack of loops of Henle means that reptiles are unable
to concentrate urine beyond the osmotic values of blood
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Gut transit time is slower in herbivores (King 1996c) and
even slower in immunocompromised or sick animals. This is
because the food is not masticated as well as in herbivorous
mammals and the large colonic area slows the passage of
ingesta down. The oral route of medication may therefore
not be successful in very debilitated reptiles.
CLINICAL NOTE
At low temperatures, putrefaction and not digestion will take
place. This is why hibernating species must be fasted before
hibernating. As regurgitation is also the safety valve against
putrefaction, this is why many reptiles (especially snakes)
regurgitate at suboptimal temperatures. It is also important
to make sure that tube-fed reptiles are kept at their PBT for
digestion.
CLINICAL NOTE
Feeding frequency
Unlike endotherms, which need to provide energy for body
temperature maintenance, reptiles can survive on a fraction
of the food input of birds and mammals (Bennett & Nagy
1977). Their low metabolic rate and high food conversion
efficiency means they need much longer periods between
feeds. Factors influencing feeding rates are temperature,
size, reproductive status, health and season. Large carnivores
such as pythons can last months between each feed. Reptiles
undergoing ecdysis become anorexic before and during the
shed.
Rate of digestion
The rate of digestion is related to temperature and low
temperatures slow down gastrointestinal motility, secretion
of digestive juices and metabolism (King 1996c). Digestion
is sluggish between 10 and 15 C and stops at temperatures
below 7 C. Transit time also depends on the composition
of food, the length and activity of the gut, and the physical
health of the animal. Herbivorous reptiles have longer gut
transit times, often taking several days to digest food (King
1996c).
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
plasma. This could mean that excretion of solutes could
draw copious amounts of water; however, the following
methods are used by reptiles to conserve water.
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More than 60% of renal function must be lost in order to
get a rise in plasma uric acid, so this is not a very sensitive
parameter of renal function. Uric acid levels are also higher
post prandially in carnivorous reptiles so fasting is important
when testing the blood of such species.
CLINICAL NOTE
Collecting a voided or cloacal urine sample is not a true
reflection of kidney function, owing to urine from the ureter
being modified by cloacal reabsorption. Marine, desert, and
most herbivorous reptiles also use salt glands, so even
ureteral urine is not a true reflection of their osmoregulation.
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 2.10 Section of tortoise kidney showing renal gout. Reptiles
being uricotelic easily develop gout when dehydrated. Hyperuricemia
causes uric acid to precipitate into crystals or tophi in joints or visceral
organs, like the kidneys.
Reduction in glomerular filtration rate
When a reptile is dehydrated or has a high salt load arginine
vasotocin (reptile antidiuretic hormone) acts to constrict
the afferent glomerular arterioles and decrease the glomeru-
lar filtration rate (Dantzler 1976). This causes decreased
excretion of nitrogenous wastes and sodium, which in
species lacking a salt gland leads to problems. Many desert
species, however, have incredible abilities to tolerate severe
dehydration together with a massive salt load. They can
tolerate the elevated osmotic concentration and some lizards
can even withstand a loss of water equivalent to 50% body
weight (Bentley 1976). The Chuckwalla (Sauromalus obesus)
from North Mexico survives without drinking, obtaining
water from desert plants. It loses some water by evapo-
ration and via cellulose in the feces and has salt glands to
excrete potassium salts.
Salt glands
Reptiles do not have sweat glands or any method of losing salts
through the skin. However, many reptiles have an extra renal
salt gland to actively excrete potassium and sodium and con-
serve water. These vary in location but are usually found near
the eye or nasal passages. With the exception of tortoises
most herbivorous reptiles have salt glands from which they
excrete more potassium than sodium. The Galapagos marine
iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) has one of the most active
salt glands and this enables it to survive on a diet of marine
algae (Bentley 1976; Dunson 1976; Minnich 1982).
Uric acid
Cloacal resorption
Decrease in glomerular filtration rate
Salt glands
Renal portal system
METHODS OF WATER CONSERVATION IN REPTILES
Uric acid
Aquatic reptiles excrete ammonia and urea and relatively
small amounts of uric acid, as water loss is not crucial.
Terrestrial species need to conserve water so they excrete
uric acid, which precipitates from solution in the bladder or
cloaca to form pasty, white urates. These urates are either
potassium or sodium salts depending on whether they are
produced by herbivores or carnivores, respectively (Bentley
1976; Dantzler 1976; Minnich 1982).
The advantage of uric acid is that, being insoluble, it can
be excreted with minimal water loss. The disadvantage,
however, is that unlike humans, reptiles excrete uric acid
through the kidney tubules, so dehydration does not stop
uric acid excretion. If this builds up in the bloodstream
of a reptile with dehydration or renal problems it easily
causes gout. Gout results when insoluble uric acid accu-
mulates and precipitates into urate crystals (tophi) that
deposit in joints or visceral organs such as the pericardium,
liver, and kidney. In can also occur when herbivorous
animals like tortoises are fed animal proteins, leading to
excess uric acid production and hyperuricemia (Mader
1996) (Fig. 2.10).
Cloacal/colonic absorption
The cloaca, colon, and urinary bladder of reptiles play an
important role in modifying urine produced by the kidneys.
Active transport of ions and passive water absorption
occurs through the colonic wall. The bladder also actively
absorbs sodium but secretes potassium and urates (Bentley
1976; Minnich 1982).
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Renal portal system
The reptilian kidney has a dual afferent blood supply con-
sisting of the renal arteries and the renal portal vein, which
arises near the confluence of the epigastric and external
iliac veins. This vein bypasses the renal glomerulus and enters
the kidneys at the level of the kidney tubule where it plays
a role in the secretion of urates. The renal portal system
may play a role too in water conservation because, when
the glomerular filtration rate slows down during dehydra-
tion, the renal portal system will keep perfusing the tubules
to prevent necrosis (Holz 1999).
It is thought that, similarly to birds, reptiles have a valve
system in place such that when the valve is closed blood
flows through the kidney to the heart. However, under
stress the valves open to bypass the kidney. The control of
the valve is unknown but it may be opened by adrenaline
and closed by acetylcholine, as in birds.
REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
The pineal gland and the hypothalamus/pituitary gland
interpret environmental stimuli into hormonal change to
regulate reproduction. In temperate species, rising temper-
atures and increasing daylight stimulates the gonads wheras
in tropical species food availability and rainfall are more
important. If food is scarce the fat bodies will be used for
nutrition rather than vitellogenesis and reproduction.
Hormones of reproduction
The main trigger of hormones involved in reproduction is
increasing light. Melatonin, which is produced by the pineal
gland, is only secreted at night so production declines when
the days are longer, controlling the circadian rhythm. This
stimulates the hypothalamus to produce gonadotropin
releasing hormone (GnRH), which stimulates the anterior
pituitary to produce luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle-
stimulating hormone (FSH).
In the female, FSH stimulates follicle growth while LH
stimulates the production of sex steroid hormones, ovula-
tion, and formation of the corpus luteum. Estrogen stimu-
lates vitellogenesis of the follicles and LH surge, triggering
ovulation. Post ovulation the regressing follicle becomes a
corpus luteum and produces progesterone, which maintains
the gravidity/pregnancy by inhibiting arginine vasotocin
and prostaglandin in the uterine smooth muscle. When the
corpus luteum regresses arginine vasotocin induces uterine
smooth muscle contraction, which is then regulated by
prostaglandins (Palmer et al. 1997).
Sexual maturity
This is related more to size than age and will vary with
species. Small lizards reach maturity at 12 years but snakes
can take 23 years. Chelonia can vary from 3 years in Red-
eared sliders to 8 years in Box turtles (DeNardo 1996).
Sex determination
Two types of sexual determination can occur in reptiles:
1. Genotypic
2. Temperature-dependent sexual determination (TSD)
Genotype
Reptiles differ from mammals in that the female is heteroga-
metic, being ZW, and the male is homogametic, being ZZ.
Temperature-dependent sex determination
TSD can occur in over 70 species of reptiles, including some
lizards, the tuatara, turtles, and all crocodilians. So far research
has found no evidence of TSD in snakes (Palmer et al. 1997).
In TSD, the sex of the embryo is not determined by sex
chromosomes but by the incubation temperature during
the early and middle incubation period. This is the period
when the embryonic gonad develops into either testis or
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Reptiles with nasal salt glands sneeze excess salts when
the plasma osmotic concentration is high. A clear fluid is
produced that dries to form a fine white powder at the
nostrils. This method of water conservation should not be
confused with respiratory infection (Dunson 1976).
CLINICAL NOTE
As venous return from the hindlimb goes straight to the
kidney tubules via the renal portal system, injecting drugs in
the caudal half of the body could theoretically result in lower
serum concentrations (Holz 1999). This could lead to
underdosing and also renal toxicity from nephrotoxic drugs.
Nevertheless, this is unlikely to have much effect on
therapeutics as it would only affect drugs excreted by tubular
secretion; aminoglycosides like gentamycin and amikacin,
which are excreted solely by glomerular filtration, would not
be affected (Holz 1999). Although renal portal flow to the
kidney increases when the animal is dehydrated, when the
glomerulus is closed epithelial transport ceases. This means
that although more drug may enter the kidney it will not
necessarily be excreted (Holz 1999).
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POI NTS
Reptiles feed less frequently than mammals and birds.
Herbivorous reptiles have longer gut transit times than
carnivores.
Digestion will not take place if the reptile is kept at
suboptimal temperatures.
Only Chelonia and some lizards have a urinary bladder.
Dehydrated reptiles run the risk of developing gout.
Reptile urine is not well concentrated and as it passes
through the cloaca is not sterile.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
ovary. Although the full mechanism is still unknown it acts
through the sex steroid hormones. It is thought that the
different temperatures act on the aromatase enzyme com-
plex that converts testosterone to estradiol. This then binds
to estrogen receptors on the gonads to create females. To
create males, enzymes convert testosterone to dihydrotestos-
terone, which binds to androgen receptors on the gonads
and triggers males (Pough et al. 1998e). Although the range
of temperature can be small the incidence of intersexes is
in fact rare.
The advantage of this process is still uncertain but it
may be a more primitive reptilian feature as it is found in
the more ancient reptiles like tuatara, chelonia and croco-
diles but appears not to occur in the more recently evolved
snakes.
As can be seen in Figures 2.12 and 2.13, prolapse of the
hemipenes or intracloacal phallus can be problems requir-
ing surgery.
The female
The ovaries function in the production of estrogens and
gametogenesis. They are saccular in shape and covered with
a variety of follicles. There are two oviducts, which not
only provide egg transport but also secrete albumin, protein,
and calcium for eggshell formation. They can be divided
into infundibulum, uterine tube, isthmus, uterus, and vagina
that opens directly into the urodeum of the cloaca. In
viviparous reptiles (see Viviparity) a large part of the uterus
is thickened and muscular to hold the developing embryo
(Palmer et al. 1997).
The ovarian cycle of mature reptiles is divided into three
phases (Palmer et al. 1997).
1. Quiescent This is where there is no development of
the ovary or oviduct.
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Although the process is not clearcut, three patterns of
temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) appears
to occur (Espinoza & Tracy 1997; Pough et al. 1998e;
Thompson 1997).
Crocodiles, some turtles and lizards (e.g., the Leopard
gecko, Eublepharis macularius) produce females at both
low and high temperatures but males at intermediate
ones.
Many chelonia produce females at high temperatures and
males at low temperatures.
Some lizards, such as the Rainbow lizard (Agama agama)
produce the opposite: males at high temperatures and
females at low temperatures.
TEMPERATURE SEX DETERMINATION
The male
The testes produce the sperm and also secrete the hormones
responsible for mating behavior and secondary sexual charac-
teristics. Testicular size varies with season and therefore
with light, temperature, and food supply. Male snakes and
lizards have a renal sexual segment in the caudal half of the
kidney. Secretions from this segment are transported to the
cloaca where they are mixed with sperm (Bellairs 1969f;
Palmer et al. 1997).
In both male and females the right gonad lies adjacent to
the vena cava and is connected to it by very tiny vessels.
The left gonad has its own blood supply but lies intimately
associated with the left adrenal gland.
Lizards and snakes have two extracloacal hemipenes.
These lie side by side, just caudal to the cloaca, and are
blind-ended organs containing walls of blood and lymph
and a seminal groove. These become engorged and evert
from their cavity for mating (Fig. 2.11).
Chelonia and crocodiles have developed the ventral proc-
todeum into a single unpaired intracloacal phallus. While
this is protruded during copulation it is not turned inside
out (Pough 1998b).
(a)
(b)
Anal sac
Cloaca
Hemipenis
Retractor muscle
Figure 2.11
(a) Snake tail showing normal inverted hemipenis lying caudal to cloaca.
(b) Hemipenis everted out through cloaca.
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2. Vitelligenic This is the phase of rapid hypertrophy
of the ovaries and oviduct. Under the influence of
estrogen, yolk is produced by the liver and transported
via the blood to the maturing ovary. The largest
follicles mature first and become heavily filled with
yolk. Increased estrogen activity mobilizes calcium
from the bone into the bloodstream and can cause
serum levels to rise two- to four-fold (Campbell 1996).
The increase in serum calcium is concomitant with
serum lipid being drawn from the fat bodies.
3. Gravidity/pregnancy The gestation period is from the
time of fertilization to oviposition, not from the time
of mating. The terms gravidity and pregnancy refer to
the presence of either eggs or embryos within oviduct
following ovulation. The follicle then becomes the
corpus luteum, which secretes progesterone to maintain
the gravid or pregnant state and inhibit oviposition or
parturition. Most species have a pre-lay shed (ecdysis)
before oviposition and this is usually the signal to
provide the reptile with a nest (DeNardo 1996).
Sperm storage
Fertilization is always internal in reptiles. Many species of
snake and turtle can store sperm so that mating can occur
in one season and reproduction in the next. In these species,
sperm is stored in the oviduct and fertilization is triggered
when the ova enter the oviduct months later. Sperm storage
can range from several months to 6 years (Bellairs 1969f;
Fox 1977; Seymour 1982).
Reptiles can be oviparous or viviparous (Palmer et al.
1997). The term ovoviviparous used to be used for an
intermediate stage where the embryo was ready to hatch,
just as the egg was laid. It was previously thought that there
was no placental transfer of nutrients in these cases but
when ovoviviparous species were studied in more detail it
was found that some form of exchange usually exists,
render-ing the term redundant. For example, the garter
snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) has placental exchange yet lays
an soft membrane egg.
Chelonia and crocodiles always lay eggs, so it is only
lizards and snakes that have evolved viviparity. The eggs of
crocodiles, some turtles, and geckos are hard shelled while
most snakes and lizards have softer more parchment-like
shells (Palmer et al. 1997; Pough et al. 1998b; Thompson
1997).
Oviparity
In oviparous reptiles eggs are laid quite early and the embryos
are relatively undeveloped. The eggs are white with soft,
but tough, leathery shells and contain a large amount of
yolk. This yolk is the only source of nutrients to the
developing embryos and is rich in fat, protein, and calcium.
Oviparous species can produce 23 clutches during the
breeding season but are unable to reproduce in cold climates
because low temperatures would prevent the eggs develop-
ing. Examples include most colubrids, iguanas, monitors,
geckos, and all chelonia and pythons (Bellairs 1969f;
DeNardo 1996; Palmer et al. 1997).
General anatomy and physiology of reptiles
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Figure 2.12 This Green iguana (Iguana iguana) had a prolapse of both
hemipenes of 3 days duration. They were necrotic so it was too late to
replace them and they were surgically amputated.
Figure 2.13 Prolapsed phallus in a Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta)
secondary to debilitation.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Viviparity
Viviparity involves some form of placental exchange
between mother and fetus and may have evolved to help
offspring survive in cooler climates (Bellairs 1969f; Palmer
et al. 1997; Pough et al. 1998e). The corpus luteum is main-
tained and secretes progesterone, which inhibits oviduct
contraction. The main disadvantage of viviparity is that the
female is more vulnerable to predation during gestation and
can only have one clutch a year as gestation can last from
1.5 to 6 months. The added space of the fetuses also puts
pressure on the gastrointestinal tract so pregnant females
dramatically lose condition (DeNardo 1996). All boas,
vipers, and some skinks and chameleons are viviparous, as
are temperate climate species such as the European lizard
(Lacerta vivipara), garter snakes (Thamnophis spp.), and
the slow worm (Anguis fragilis).
Structure of the egg
In contrast to amphibians, which have only the yolk sac,
reptile eggs have three membranes and a leathery shell,
which though water resistant allows gas exchange. The egg
has the amniotic membrane surrounding the embryo, and
the chorionic membrane, which covers the inside of the
egg. The allantois membrane lies between the two and is
attached to the chorion and stores the urea and/or uric acid
waste products.
The eggshell is not just a protective layer but also a rich
source of calcium to the developing embryo. This is par-
ticularly important for turtles, which use 80% of the egg-
shell to form their shell. All lizards and snakes use their
modified tooth (egg tooth) to break their way out of the
shell. Chelonians and crocodiles have a horny thickening of
the epidermis instead, called the egg caruncle, which per-
forms the same function.
Fat bodies
Fat bodies lie adjacent to the kidney and gonads in the
caudal celomic cavity. Some reptiles from temperate climates
use these to provide yolk for the first clutch of eggs after
the winter. Males show similar cycles but have smaller fat
bodies than females.
Maternal care
Some female Indian pythons (e.g., Python molorus) show
parental care. The female coils around her clutch and gen-
erates heat by muscle shivering. This muscle twitching
keeps her body temperature 7 C above ambient tempera-
ture and may last for up to 2 months. Crocodiles often
guard their nest and young for up to a year. However, most
reptiles do not exhibit parental care as it poses too much
risk to adult survival.
ENDOCRINE SYSTEM
Thyroid gland
Like mammals, thyroid hormones maintain and stimulate
metabolism under pituitary control. However, it is only
effective in increasing metabolism if temperatures are suit-
able for that species. It also plays an important role in
shedding and growth. In chelonia and snakes, this gland is
unpaired and spherical and lies ventral to the trachea just
cranial to the heart. In lizards the thyroid varies between
species and can be paired, bilobed or unpaired. The com-
monest is the bilobed organ with an isthmus over the
trachea, as in mammals.
Parathyroid glands
The parathyroids have a similar structure to those found in
mammals but, unlike them, in reptiles they are found near
the thymus or ultimobranchial bodies and not with the
thyroids. Chelonia have two pairs; the rostral pair are hard
to visualize because they lie within the thymus gland but
the caudal pair can be clearly seen near the aortic arch
(Clark 1970).
In snakes the rostral pair of parathyroid glands lie near
the angle of the jaw, with the second pair lying more
caudally, near the thymus and heart. Lizards may have 12
pairs depending on the species. A rostral pair lies in the
neck near the bifurcation of the carotid arteries and the
caudal pair (when present) lie just behind them near the
aortic arch (Clark 1970).
The parathyroids control calcium and phosphorous levels.
Reptiles on a low calcium diet develop hypocalcemia, which
stimulates increased production of PTH. This acts to mobi-
lize calcium from the bones to increase serum calcium.
Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism and osteopenia
eventually results and can be seen clearly on radiographs
(Figs. 2.5 and 2.6).
Adrenal glands
These are yellow/red in color and lie retroperitoneally in
crocodiles and chelonia and closely adherent to the gonads
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KEY POI NTS
Many chelonia and lizards have temperature dependent
sexual determination (TSD).
Male lizards and snakes have two hemipenes; crocodiles
and chelonia have a single phallus.
Ovarian follicles become heavily filled with yolk from the
liver.
Sperm can be stored for years in the oviduct.
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in lizards and snakes. However, they always lie dorsal to the
gonads and, except in chelonia, lie asymmetrically with the
right cranial to the left (Gabe 1970).
Chelonia have dorsoventrally flattened glands which lie
against the kidney. Ventrally they are covered by peri-
toneum that extends forward to form the mesorchium or
mesovarium of the adjacent gonads. Snakes and lizards have
adrenal glands actually incorporated into the mesorchium
or mesovarium, close to their respective gonads. They are
elongated in snakes and usually globular in lizards. The right
gland is attached to the caudal vena cava (Gabe 1970).
Pancreas
This forms a c-shaped loop in chelonia, attached to the
mesenteric border of the duodenal loop. In lizards it has
three parts: one extending toward the gall bladder, one
toward the duodenum, and one toward the spleen.
In snakes the pancreas is often pyramidal in shape and
lies caudal to the spleen in the first part of the duodenum.
Its location can vary with species but it is often intimately
associated with the spleen (Miller & Lagios 1970).
Pineal gland
The pineal gland is closely associated with the parietal eye.
It is a saccular organ lined by epithelial cells containing
photoreceptor and secretory-like cells. It converts photic
stimuli into neuroendocrine messages and may play a role
in thermoregulation. Some lizards have a more superficial
parietal gland or third eye, which has a lens, cornea, and
retina and is located just beneath the skin in the parietal
foramen at the junction between the parietal and frontal
bone. Although it does not form images, it is thought to
sense changes in the intensity and wavelength of light and
may aid thermoregulatory shuttling (Bellairs 1969e; Firth &
Turner 1982). Crocodiles lack both parietal and pineal glands.
NERVOUS SYSTEM
The reptile is the first group of vertebrates to have 12
cranial nerves (Barten 1996; Bennett, RA 1996). The brain
comprises 1% of body mass and is larger than amphibians
and fishes, with more developed optic lobes reflecting their
well-developed vision. Unlike mammals the spinal cord
extends to the tail tip and there is no cauda equina (Bennett,
RA 1996). Reptiles do not have a true subarachnoid space;
the space between the leptomeninges (pia-arachnoid) and
the dura mater is called the subdural space.
Senses
Hearing
Crocodiles are the only reptiles with an external ear. In the
other species the tympanic membrane is the outer
boundary of the middle ear and often lies level with and
covered by modified skin. Some species, such as snakes,
tuatara, and chameleon, lack a tympanic membrane.
Crocodiles, geckos, and turtles have the best hearing of all
reptiles (Young 1997).
There is only one single middle ear bone, the columella,
which is the forerunner of the mammalian stapes and so
named because it is column or rod shaped. (In mammals
the quadrate and articular bones have become the incus
and malleus and this sound conduction system gives
mammals better hearing.) The columella is attached to the
tympanic membrane and also to the quadrate bone of the
lower jaw. Vibrations pass from the air or ground to the
tympanic membrane and then to the columella, which then
moves the perilymphatic fluid to give rise to nerve impulses
(Murray 1996b; Young 1997).
A short, broad auditory (eustachian) tube leads from the
middle ear to the pharynx and, as in birds, is not closed.
The middle ear is lined by mucous membrane which is
continuous with this tube and pharynx. The inner ear con-
sists of the organs of balance: the three semicircular canals,
the utricle and saccule, and the organ of hearing, the
cochlea. The cochlear duct is not coiled as it is in mammals
(Baird 1970; Bellairs 1969e).
Taste and touch
Reptiles have taste buds on their tongue and oral epithe-
lium. Tactile papillae are found along the head and oral
cavity in some species. Tactile stimuli play a major role in
courtship in snakes and lizards (Young 1997).
Olfaction
Olfaction plays an important role in courtship and mating.
All reptiles have an accessory olfactory organ called
Jacobsons organ. These organs are paired and lie on the
rostral roof of the oral cavity over the vomer bones.
They are lined by thick sensory epithelium and inner-
vated by the vomeronasal nerve, a branch of the olfactory
nerve.
Jacobsons organ is most highly developed in snakes
(Fig. 2.14) where they receive data from the tip of the
tongue as it flickers in and out. Chelonians only have a
modified Jacobsons organ while in adult crocodiles it only
exists in the early embryonic stage (Bellairs 1969e; Parsons
1970; Young 1997).
Sight
The principal receptors in reptiles are eyes and the
secondary receptors are the pineal gland and, possibly, the
skin. Lizards and chelonians have scleral ossicles and all
eyes have lenses. Aquatic species have poor accommo-
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The spinal cord possesses some localized autonomy so spinal
cord injuries could have a better clinical prognosis than in
mammals (Bennett, RA 1996).
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
dation because the refractive index of water is almost the
same as that of the cornea; marine turtles have a very flat-
tened cornea. As in birds, the iris is controlled by skeletal
muscle so is non-responsive to mydriatics like atropine.
Mydriatics such as d-tubocurare can be used instead of
general anesthesia (Barten 1996; Bennett, RA 1996; Williams
1996). Miosis is quite sluggish in reptiles and there is
no consensual pupillary light reflex. Two large glands are
associated with the orbit and these are the Harderian and
lacrimal glands.
INTEGUMENT
Although it is commonly thought that reptiles have slimy
skin in fact, the converse is true as the skin is dry and has
far fewer glands than either amphibians or mammals. It is
also heavily keratinized with a lipid layer to prevent water
loss. The only glandular-type tissues are the femoral and
precloacal pores seen in some lizards, which have a
pheromonal function and are better developed in the male
(Bellairs 1969d; Lillywhite & Maderson 1982).
The epidermis is both thick and thin in order to form
scales and it is these scales that make reptile skin a poor
insulator of heat. Unlike fish scales, which can be scraped
off, these scales are an integral part of the skin. The scales
provide protection from abrasion, play a role in perme-
ability, and tend to be thicker dorsally than ventrally. In
some species they are developed into large plates and
shields on the head. In snakes they are widened ventrally to
form what are called gastropeges that are important for
locomotion.
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Figure 2.14 Section of snake head showing
the fused eyelids or spectacle, Jacobsons organ
and tongue.
Sp
Hg
En
Jo
In
Ld
En
Hg
In
Jo
Ld
Sp
= External nostril
= Harderian gland
= Internal nostril
= Jacobson's organ
= Lacrimal duct
= Spectacle
Skin permeability increases when the skin is in contact with
water, so water baths (Fig. 2.15) are a good way of hydrating
sick reptiles and treating dysecdysis (Lillywhite & Maderson
1982).
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 2.15 Leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) being treated in
a water bath.
Wound healing is slow in reptiles so stitches should be left
in for at least 6 weeks (Bennett & Mader 1996; Rossi 1996).
It is best to leave stitches in place until ecdysis occurs since
the increased activity in the dermis and epidermis promotes
better healing and strength.
CLINICAL NOTE
Ch02.qxd 3/9/05 2:40 PM Page 36
Epidermis
The epidermis has three layers. The inner layer is called the
stratum germinatum and consists of cuboidal cells that
produce the protein keratin and the dividing cells of the
intermediate layer. The intermediate layer has a lipid rich
film that plays a major role in providing a water-permeable
barrier in the skin. The outer stratum corneum is heavily
keratinized into the scales. Two forms of keratin are pro-
duced in reptiles: alpha-keratin, which is flexible, and beta-
keratin, which provides strength and hardness and is unique
to reptiles (Fig. 2.16). Beta-keratin is found in the scales of
the chelonian shells whereas the alpha-keratin is found in
the hinges or between the scutes (Bellairs 1969d; Harvey-
Clark 1997; Lillywhite & Maderson 1982). It is at these
weaker links that mites or infection like shell rot can be
found (Harvey-Clark 1997).
occur prior to ecdysis and the reptiles become very sus-
ceptible to dehydration. Snakes tend to shed the whole
skin, unlike lizards and chelonians which shed piecemeal,
and this makes them even more vulnerable during ecdysis.
In a healthy snake the whole process can take up to about
2 weeks.
During ecdysis the cells in the intermediate layer replicate
to form a new three-layer epidermis. Once this process is
complete, lymph diffuses into the area between the two
layers and enzymes are released to form a cleavage zone.
The old skin is shed and the new epithelium hardens,
decreasing permeability to become the new skin (Harvey-
Clark 1997; Lillywhite & Maderson 1982; Rossi 1996).
General anatomy and physiology of reptiles
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Figure 2.16 Vertical section through the horny scales of lizard or snake
showing hinges between the scales. The hinges are made from the flexible
alpha keratin while the beta keratin, which is unique to reptiles, gives
strength and hardness to the scales.
Epidermis
Dermis
Hinge region
( keratin)
Horny scale
( keratin)
The thick, keratinized skin of reptiles is at the expense of
cutaneous sensation. Reptiles have far less sensory feeling in
their skin than birds or mammals, which is why they are at
more risk from thermal burns in captivity.
CLINICAL NOTE
During ecdysis the skin becomes more permeable and more
vulnerable to parasites and infection. Malnourished animals
are hypoproteinemic and unable to produce enough enzymes
to form a true cleavage zone, resulting in dysecdysis (failure
to shed). Lack of moisture will also delay the process
(Lillywhite & Maderson 1982).
CLINICAL NOTE
Dermis
The dermis consists of connective tissue, blood and lymphatic
vessels, nerves, and pigment cells. In some species the dermis
has bony plates called osteoderms. In chelonians this has
fused with the vertebrae to form a shell.
Ecdysis
Ecdysis is the shedding of skin and is controlled by the
thyroid gland. Changes in feeding behavior and activity
The production of color
Reptiles have pigment-containing cells called chromatophores
that lie between the dermis and epidermis. These not only
help in camouflage and sexual display but in thermoregu-
lation. These pigment cells are not just confined to skin but
can occur in the peritoneum in some species.
Melanophores produce the pigment melanin and lie
deepest in the subepidermal layer. These melanin cells give
rise to black, brown, yellow and gray coloration. Albinism
in reptiles is caused by lack of melanin. The carotenoid cells
are found beneath the epidermis above the melanophores
and produce yellow, red and orange pigments (Bellairs
1969d).
Structural colors
The iridophores (guanophores) also lie in the dermis. These
contain a semicrystalline product guanine (the breakdown
product of uric acid) that reflects light. The blue wave-
lengths are reflected more to produce a blue color in an
effect called Tyndall scattering. When combined with the
yellow carotenoids this gives the color green, which is a
common camouflage color in many reptiles (Bellairs 1969d).
Iridescence
Iridescence is caused by the physical properties of light on
the thin and transparent outer layer of skin. When light
strikes it from an angle the light spectrum is split into
wavelengths of different colors. Depending on the color of
the scales this will cause an iridescent effect when the
snake moves. This feature is more obvious in black or dark
snakes like the rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria).
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pp. 117194.
Enlow, D. H. (1970) The bone of reptiles. In C. Gans (ed.), Biology
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pp. 4577.
Espinoza, R. E., & Tracy, C. R. (1997) Thermal biology, metabolism
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Evans, H. E. (1986) Reptiles Introduction and anatomy. In M. E.
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Firth, B. J. & Turner, J. S. (1982) Sensory, neural and hormonal
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Fox, H. (1977) The urogenital system of reptiles. In C. Gans & T.
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Gabe, M. (1970) The adrenals. In C. Gans & T. Parsons (eds.),
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Gans, C. & Hughes, G. M. (1967) The mechanism of lung ventilation
in the tortoise Testudo Graeca Linne. Journal of Experimental
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Gregory, P. T. (1982) Reptilian hibernation. In C. Gans (ed.), Biology
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Harvey-Clark, C. J. (1997) Dermatologic (skin) disorders.
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KEY POI NTS
The adrenal glands are intimately associated with the
gonads in snakes and lizards.
Reptiles have only one middle ear bone so their hearing
is not acute like mammals.
Jacobsons organ is very well developed, especially in
snakes, and plays a major role in olfaction.
There is no consensual pupillary light reflex and the pupil
is non responsive to atropine.
Reptilian skin has few glands but has a lipid layer to
prevent water loss.
Sick animals suffer from dysecdysis due to lack of
moisture and malnutrition.
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Holz, P. H. (1999) The reptilian renal-portal system: Influence on
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medicine: Current therapy, 4th edn. Philadelphia: WB Saunders.
pp. 249252.
King, G. (1996a) Reptiles and herbivory. London: Chapman & Hall.
Reptiles and herbivory, C; pp. 123.
King, G. (1996b) Reptiles and herbivory. London: Chapman & Hall.
Lizards; pp. 2942.
King, G. (1996c) Reptiles and herbivory. London: Chapman & Hall.
Turtles and tortoises; pp. 4760.
King, G. M. & Custance, D. R. (1982) Colour atlas of vertebrate
anatomy. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific. The lizard; pp. 4.14.10.
Lichtenbelt, W. D. (1992) Digestion in an ectotherm herbivore, the
green iguana (Iguana): Effect of food composition and body
temperature. Physiological Zoology 65(3), 649673.
Liem, K. F., Bemis, W. E., Walker, W. F., & Grande, L. (eds.) (2001)
Functional anatomy of the Vertebrates, 3rd edn. Fort Worth, Tex.:
Harcourt College. Respiration; pp. 591593.
Lillywhite, H. B., & Maderson, P. F. (1982) Skin structure and
permeability. In C. Gans & F. H. Pough (eds.), Biology of the reptilia.
Vol. 12, Physiology C. London: Academic Press. pp. 397433.
Mader, D. R. (ed.) (1996) Reptile medicine and surgery. Philadelphia:
WB Saunders. Gout; pp. 374379.
McCutcheon, F. H. (1943) The respiratory mechanism in turtles.
Physiological Zoology 16, 255269.
Miller, M. R., & Lagios, M. D. (1970) The pancreas. In C. Gans & T.
Parsons (eds.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 3, Morphology C. London:
Academic Press. pp. 320324.
Minnich, J. E. (1982) The use of water. In C. Gans & F. H. Pough
(eds.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 12, Physiology C. London:
Academic Press. pp. 325386.
Murray, M. J. (1996a) Cardiology and circulation. In D. R. Mader
(ed.), Reptile medicine and surgery. Philadelphia: WB Saunders.
pp. 95104.
Murray, M. J. (1996b) Aural abscess. In D. R. Mader (ed.), Reptile
medicine and surgery. Philadelphia: WB Saunders. pp. 349352.
Murray, M. J. (1996c) Pneumonia and normal respiratory function.
In D. R. Mader (ed.), Reptile medicine and surgery. Philadelphia:
WB Saunders. pp. 396405.
Ottaviani, G., & Tazzi, A. (1977) The lymphatic system. In C. Gans
& T. Parsons (eds.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 6, Morphology E.
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Palmer, B., Uribe, M. C., et al. (1997) Reproductive anatomy and
physiology. In L. Ackermann (ed.), The biology, husbandry and
healthcare of reptiles. Vol. 1, The biology of reptiles. N.J.: TFH
Publications. pp. 5481.
Parsons, T. S. (1970) The nose and Jacobsons organs. In C. Gans
(ed.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 2, Morphology B. London:
Academic Press. pp. 99185.
Perry, S. F. (1989) Structure and function of the reptilian respiratory
system. In S. C. Wood (ed.), Comparative pulmonary physiology
current concepts. New York: Dekker. pp. 193237.
Perry, S. F., & Duncker, H. R. (1978) Lung architecture, volume and
static mechanics in five species of lizards. Respiratory Physiology
34, 6181.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al. (1998a) Herpetology.
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study; pp. 120.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al. (1998b) Herpetology.
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of extant reptiles; pp. 75133.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al. (1998c) Herpetology.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Temperature and water
relations; pp. 137172.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M. Cadle, J. E. et al. (1998d) Herpetology.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Energetics and performance;
pp. 173204.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al. (1998e) Herpetology.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Reproduction and life history;
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Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al. (1998f) Herpetology.
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Pough, F. H., Janis, C. M., & Heiser, J. B. (2002a) Vertebrate life,
6th edn. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Turtles; pp. 270294.
Pough, F. H., Janis, C. M., & Heiser, J. B. (2002b) Vertebrate life,
6th edn. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. The lepidosaurs:
Tuatara, lizards and snakes; pp. 294341.
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Secor, S. M., & Diamond, J. (1995) Adaptive responses to feeding
Burmese Pythons: Pay before pumping. Journal of Experimental
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mode of snakes Crotalus cerastes and Masticophis flagellum.
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Skoczylas, R. (1978) The physiology of the digestive tract.
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Physiology B. London: Academic Press. pp. 589658.
Thompson, M. B.(1997) Egg physiology and biology.
In L. Ackermann (ed.), The biology, husbandry and healthcare
of reptiles. Vol. 1, The biology of reptiles. N.J.: TFH Publications.
pp. 88121.
Troyer, K. (1984) Structure and function of the digestive tract
of a herbivorous lizard Iguana iguana. Physiological Zoology 57(1),
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Uetz, P. (2000) How many reptile species? Herpetology Review 31,
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Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 5, Physiology A. London: Academic
Press. pp. 275328.
Williams, D. L. (1996) Opthalmology. In D. R. Mader (ed.), Reptile
medicine and surgery. Philadelphia: WB Saunders. pp. 175185.
Wood, S. C., & Lenfant, C. J. (1976) Respiration: Mechanics,
control and gas exchange. In C. Gans & W. R. Dawson (eds.),
Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 5, Physiology A. London: Academic
Press. pp. 225267.
Young, B. A. (1997) Hearing, taste, tactile reception and olfaction.
In L. Ackermann (ed.), The biology, husbandry and healthcare of
reptiles. Vol. 1, The Biology of reptiles. N.J.: TFH Publications.
pp. 185213.
General anatomy and physiology of reptiles
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INTRODUCTION
Chelonians (along with the tuatara) are the most ancient of
all living reptiles and evolved over 200 million years ago
(Evans 1986). They predate dinosaurs and their primeval
shelled appearance has made them a popular and fasci-
nating pet with none of the sinister connotations of snakes.
Their survival through evolution is related to their ability to
withdraw their head inside the protective armor of their
shell. Consequently, they have not needed to diversify,
which is why flying and fossorial turtles do not exist (King
1996).
North America has a quarter of the worlds chelonians
(Evans 1986) while Europe has only two species of fresh-
water turtle and three terrestrial species. Australia has no
terrestrial species and only has aquatic sidenecks.
Longevity
Of all the reptiles, chelonians live the longest, with many
living well over 50 years in captivity. Larger species like the
Galapagos tortoise (Geochelone nigra) have been recorded
to live for over 150 years (Bellairs 1969d; Pough et al.
1998a, 2002).
Size
The largest chelonia are the marine Leathery turtle
(Dermochelys coriacea), which can weigh 680 kg and the
Galapagos Giant tortoise weighing 263 kg. Larger size does
confer the advantage of thermal inertia and the ability to
store fat for lean periods. The majority of species reach a
maximum carapace length of 30 cm although smaller
species like the Madagascar Spider tortoise (Pyxis arach-
noides) has an adult shell length of only 10 to 15 cm
(Bellairs 1969d).
TAXONOMY
Chelonia have a dramatic ability to flex their cervical
vertebrae and are classified into two suborders according to
their mode of retracting their head into their shell (Fig.
3.1).
The Pleurodira or sideneck turtles have three main
points of neck flexure so the neck forms a horizontal s
shape. They are more primitive than the Cryptodira, being
unable to retract their head inside their shell, instead
placing it sideways. These are mainly aquatic or semi-
aquatic turtles and are only found in the southern
continents.
The Cryptodira or hidden-neck turtles have two points
of neck flexure that form a vertical s bend, allowing the
head to be completely withdrawn inside the shell. This has
enabled them to be more successful and includes the
majority of chelonian species (11 families). Some species,
such as the Snapper turtle and sea turtles, have lost the
ability to hide their head in their shell (Bellairs 1969a;
Hoffstetter & Gasc 1970; King 1996).
Terminology
Chelonia refers to the order of shelled reptiles. In North
America the word turtle is the common term for any
reptile with a shell, although the term tortoise is used for
terrestrial species like the Testudinidae. In other parts of
the world different terms may be used according to
habitat. Tortoises are land based, terrapins are freshwater
semi-aquatic, and the word turtle is reserved solely for
marine and aquatic species (Table 3.1).
THERMOREGULATION
Chelonians are heliotherms (Boyer & Boyer 1996), with a
temperature range from 22 to 33 C. Many smaller species
bask in the sun to heat up. They have difficulty cooling
down, owing to their shell, so seek shade by burrowing
under vegetation. Large chelonians in arid deserts find it
difficult to reach shade because of their large size, so they
lose heat by evaporative cooling. They achieve this by
hypersalivating or urinating on their legs and plastron
(Bartholomew 1982).
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Tortoises and turtles
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
in mud at the bottom of a pond where water is so dense it
does not freeze. These latter survive by using anaerobic
metabolism and absorbing dissolved oxygen through their
skin and pharyngeal mucosa (Gregory 1982).
GENERAL EXTERNAL ANATOMY
Anatomical modifications have evolved according to the
habitat and whether it is terrestrial, marine, or freshwater.
Terrestrial (tortoises)
These are high-domed, stump-legged, small-headed vege-
tarians (Fig. 3.3) that are found in hot and arid climates
(Evans 1986; Hoffstetter & Gasc 1970; Pough 1998a). They
have developed thick skin and large scales to prevent desic-
cation. Largest of the land tortoises include the Galapagos
tortoise (Geochelone nigra) (Fig. 3.2) and the Aldabra
(Geochelone gigantea), but they mainly range from 10 to
120 cm in size. Many smaller species, like the North American
Gopher (Gopherus polyphemus) tortoise, have adapted for
burrowing with a flatter dome and scoop-shaped forelegs,
while the African Pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri)
has a shell so flat and flexible it can slide between rock
crevices to escape predators (Pough et al. 2002).
Aquatic
Chelonia are well modified for aquatic existence as they
can easily breathhold, and utilize anaerobic metabolism
and non-pulmonary respiration through skin, pharynx or
cloaca. They also have the ability to shunt blood away from
the lungs while diving and tolerate severe acidbase
imbalances.
Marine
Marine species are the largest of all and have evolved a
flatter, softer shell for better streamlining (Fig. 3.4). The
metacarpal/tarsal bones and phalanges are elongated for
swimming and are similar to flippers. The fore flippers are
long and oar-like and used for propulsion while the hind
flippers are used for steering and digging the nest. The
Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest,
the Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) the smallest
(Evans 1986; Pough et al. 2002).
Freshwater
These are aquatic or semi-aquatic, have webbed feet and a
smooth shell. Softshell turtles (Trionychidae) from North
America and Asia are strong swimmers and mainly carnivo-
rous. They are the most aquatic of all freshwater species
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(a)
(b)
Skull
Shell
Skull
Shell
Semi-aquatic turtles, like the Red-eared slider, bask on dry
land to aid digestion of food. However, basking in the sun
may also play a role in ecdysis and prevents fungal infections
by drying out the shell (Pough et al. 2002).
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 3.1 Neck flexure in chelonian (arrows indicate point of maximum
flexure).
(a) Cryptodires showing neck flexure from the side
(b) Pleurodires showing neck flexure from above
Hibernation
Chelonians from subtropical or temperate areas hibernate
in winter months under the influence of decreasing tempera-
tures. Terrestrial species bury themselves below the frostline
underground while some aquatic species bury themselves
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and can remain submerged for long periods using their long
necks to grab at passing prey. They have a leathery, flat
shell, large webbed feet, and reduced plastron to allow for
free limb movement and little water resistance (Evans
1986; Pough et al. 2002).
Snapping turtles (Chelydridae) have such a reduced shell
that the head can only be retracted into the neck folds,
leaving the nose visible (Fig. 3.5). These are not good swim-
mers and often walk along the bottom of ponds. They are
omnivores and have strong jaws for predation and protec-
tion (Evans 1986; Pough et al. 2002).
SKELETAL SYSTEM AND INTEGUMENT
Locomotion
Terrestrial chelonian species have limbs that project side-
ways so the muscles tire easily and progress can be laborious.
Despite their awkward gait and the weight of the shell they
can, however, move at great speed. Aquatic species have
evolved different methods of locomotion. Freshwater turtles
swim with alternate beats in a paddling motion and some
can walk along the bottom. Marine turtles move their
forelimbs in unison like flippers, using their rear limbs like
rudders (Walker 1973).
Tortoises and turtles
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How can a reptile with a heavy shell submerge in water
and walk along the bottom?
This is achieved by large lung volume, specific gravity, and
stored water.
Semiaquatic turtles, like the Red-eared slider (Trachemys
scripta) have a specific gravity lighter than water, so they float.
Their shell accounts for about 75% of their mass so they also
have a larger pulmonary volume and extra buoyancy from
their bladder and cloaca. When they dive they expel gas from
their lungs to submerge (Wood & Lenfant 1976).
Fully aquatic turtles tend to have a specific gravity slightly
greater than water and so they tend to sink and require little
effort to stay underwater. They also tend to have flatter shells
and less lung volume (Seymour 1982).
GENERAL INTEREST
Suborder Family Location Examples
Pleurodira Chelidae Australasia, S. America Matamata
Pelomedusidae Africa, S. America River turtle
Cryptodira Carettochelyidae Australasia Pig-snouted river turtle
Cheloniidae Marine Green turtle, Hawksbill turtle
Chelydridae North America, Snapping turtle
Central America
Dermatemydidae Central America River turtle
Dermochelyidae Marine Leatherback turtle
Emydidae N & S. America, Europe, Box, Common slider, European
Asia, Africa pond terrapin
Kinosternidae North America Mud and musk turtles
Platysternidae Southeast Asia Big-headed turtle
Staurotypidae Central America Mexican musk turtle
Testudinidae Cosmopolitan, Hermans tortoise, Leopard
except Australia tortoise
Trionychidae N. America, Africa, Asia Softshell turtles
Table 3.1 Taxonomy and classification of Chelonia (Pough et al. 1998a, 2002)
Figure 3.2 Spur-thigh tortoise (Testudo graeca) showing the high domed
shell and short, stubby legs of terrestrial species.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
The shell
The dome of the shell is called the carapace and the flat
underpart is called the plastron. The joint between the cara-
pace and plastron is called the bridge. The cranial aperture
is called the axillary aperture, and caudally is the inguinal
aperture. The shell is formed from dermal bone and con-
sists of about 60 bones formed from the modified pectoral
and pelvic limb girdles, trunk vertebrae, sacrum, and ribs.
These are covered by keratinized epidermal scales known
as scutes (Fig. 3.14). These scutes do not correspond with
the underlying bone, adding greater protection and strength
to the shell (Pough et al. 1998a; Zangerl 1970).
Skeleton
Skull
Chelonians belong to the subclass Anapsida (without arches)
because they lack true temporal openings (Fig. 3.6). How-
ever, many species do have gaps in the temporal region that
provide a pseudotemporal fossa for muscle attachments.
Although the head has to be kept small to enable it to be
retracted, the sturdy skull, large adductor muscles, and
short jaw still enables chelonians to have a strong bite.
On either side of the small brain case there are large paired
supratemporal fossae. Strong retractor muscles extend from
these fossae and supraoccipital crest to the base of the
neck, enabling them to retract their head. These muscles
also enable them to pull at food with their heads while
holding it with their limbs (Evans 1986).
In order to keep the head small yet retain a strong bite,
the adductor muscles run through a trochlear pulley, which
lengthens the muscle fibers and gives them extra strength
(Fig. 3.7). In Pleurodira this pulley is formed by a process on
the pterygoid bones while in Cryptodira it is formed by the
quadrate bones. In each case, although the muscles origi-
nate from the back of the skull the muscle is redirected
vertically for maximum force (King 1996; Pough et al.
1998a).
Mandible
In Chelonia the mouth opens by lowering the jaw (the
reverse of crocodiles). Like lizards, they have a mandibular
symphysis, and jaw articulation is between the quadrate
bone and the articular bone of the lower jaw.
Vertebrae
There are 18 presacral vertebrae, consisting of 8 cervical
and 10 trunk vertebrae. The trunk vertebrae each have rib
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Streamlined head
Flat shell
Powerful flippers
Figure 3.5 Snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). The powerful snapping
jaws compensate for the inability to retract the head into the shell.
Figures 3.3 Despite its enormous size the Galapagos tortoise (Geochelone
nigra) has retained a head small enough to retract inside the shell.
Figure 3.4 Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). Marine species have
evolved a flatter, softer shell for streamlining with long, fore flippers for
powerful propulsion.
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attachments which fuse with the dermal bone plates (Figs.
3.83.11). There is no sternum. In contrast to the fused
trunk, the cervical and caudal vertebrae are free. The neck
and tail are highly flexible and have well-developed epaxial
and hypaxial muscles (Evans 1986).
Cervical vertebrae
The eight cervical vertebrae allow for bending of the neck
sideways (Pleurodira) or inside the shell (Cryptodira). The
Pleurodira cannot retract their head entirely inside the
shell and this lack of protection may explain why they have
been less successful and their range limited to the southern
continents.
Tortoises and turtles
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Parietal bone
Quadratojugal
bone
Post orbital
Maxilla
Frontal bone
Dorsoventral view
Lateral view
Post orbital
Frontal bone Parietal bone
Quadratojugal
bone
Maxillary
bone
Squamosal
bone
Quadrate
(a)
(b)
Figure 3.6 Modified anapsid skull of chelonian.
(a) Lateral view
(b) Dorsoventral view
External
adductor muscle
External
adductor muscle
Trochlear
process
Otic
Capsule
Otic
Capsule
Lateral process
of the pterygoid
(a)
(b)
Figure 3.7 Lateral view of chelonian skull showing adductor muscle pulley
system. Redirecting the muscles vertically for maximum force enables the
head to be kept small so that it can be drawn in for protection from
predators.
(a) Cryptodires the pulley runs by the quadrate bone
(b) Pleurodires the pulley runs along the lateral process of the pterygoid
bone
Peripheral
Neural
Nuchal
Suprapygal
Pygal
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Costal
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Figure 3.8 Dorsal carapace showing dermal bone plates.
Chelonia are the only tetrapods that have their pectoral and
pelvic girdle inside their ribs. This means that chelonians do
not possess an expandable rib cage for breathing.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Limb girdles
The pectoral and pelvic girdle both occupy a unique posi-
tion inside the ribs and act like vertical pillars giving extra
strength to the shell. These two bony girdles are attached
to the plastron and carapace by fan-shaped pectoral and
pelvic muscles. These limb muscles constitute the largest
muscle mass and are surprisingly powerful. Fat is deposited
between the limb base and the shell, so obese animals
could have difficulties withdrawing into their shell and
breathing.
Pectoral girdle
The pectoral girdle consists of the epiplastron (clavicle), the
entoplastron (interclavicle) and a tripartite arrangement of
scapula, acromion process and coracoid bone. The scapula
fuses dorsally with the carapace via a ligamentous attachment
and ventrally articulates with the humerus at the glenoid
cavity. A prominent acromion process projects medially,
almost touching its counterpart and is fused to the plastron
via connective tissue bands. The third strut is the coracoid
bone, which extends caudomedially and also articulates with
the glenoid fossa (Figs. 3.12 and 3.13) (Bellairs 1969a).
Pelvic girdle
The ilium, ischivin and pubic bones are paired and meet at
the acetabulii; the ilium is attached dorsally to the sacral ribs.
In Pleurodira the pelvic girdle is fused more strongly to the
carapace by the ilia dorsally, and pubic and ischial bones
ventrally, leaving the sacral attachment weaker (Hoffstetter
& Gasc 1970).
Limbs
The humerus and femur are short in length, with expansion
of the proximal and distal extremities. A fused carpus and
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1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
1
2
Peripheral
Neural
Nuchal
Costal
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Suprapygal
Pygal
Epiplastron
Entoplastron
Hypoplastron
Xiphiplastron
Hyoplastron
Figure 3.10 Ventral plastron showing dermal bone plates.
Figure 3.9 Ventral carapace showing dermal bone plates.
Figure 3.11 Hermanns tortoise (Testudo hermanni) with severe osteomyelitis
and septicemia. The femoral and abdominal epidermal scutes have sloughed
off to reveal the xiphiplastron and hypoplastron dermal bones beneath.
Ch03.qxd 3/9/05 2:41 PM Page 46
marine turtles have modified their forelimbs into flippers
(Walker 1973).
Scutes
The outer part of the shell is covered with horny scutes
formed from the epidermis and is the equivalent of scales
in other reptiles. The number and size of scutes helps
identify the species. The scutes, being of epidermal origin,
are innervated and bleed if damaged. Growth occurs by the
addition of new keratinized layers to the base of each scute.
Greater cell activity around the perimeter of each new layer
causes the scutes to widen gradually.
The scutes of the carapace are termed marginal, cervical,
pleurals (costals) and vertebrals (Fig. 3.15). The scutes of
the plastron are called gular, humeral, pectoral, abdominal,
femoral, and anal (Fig. 3.16).
Tortoises and turtles
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Scapula
Humerus
Radius
Coracoid
Acromion process
of scapula
Figure 3.12 Ventral view of tripartite chelonian shoulder. The scapula
fuses dorsally with the carapace via a ligamentous attachment. A
prominent acromion process projects medially while the coracoid bone
extends caudomedially.
Figure 3.13 Dorsal view of left shoulder of Red-eared slider (Trachemys
scripta) showing tripartite shoulder.
tarsus all give added strength. All species have five claws on
each foot, except the tortoises, which have short stubby toes
and only four claws on the hind feet. The limbs are covered
by conventional scales and have strong claws for digging.
Freshwater turtles have webbed and flattened feet; the
Figure 3.14 Dorsoventral radiograph of carapace of juvenile Hermanns
tortoise (Testudo hermanni) with shell fractured by lawn mower.
It would be useful if chelonians could be aged by the ring
of new growth in the shell, but as this can be interrupted by
changes in food supply, seasonal change, and hibernation in
temperate species it does not necessarily correspond with a
years growth (Enlow 1970; Hoffstetter & Gasc 1970).
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Shell modifications
Some species, like the Common box turtle (Terrapene car-
olina), have hinges of cartilaginous tissue between the sutures
of the bony plates instead of the normal ossified sutures.
These enable them to withdraw their head, tail, and limbs
and close up like a box. The softshell turtles have leathery
skin replacing hard scutes to make them more flexible. Marine
species have reduced the bone plates even more, creating a
tough, leathery shell for better streamlining. Other species,
such as the Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpintina),
have such a small shell that they are unable to retract inside
their shell at all. They escape predation by being extremely
aggressive instead (Pough et al. 2002).
CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
The heart lies in the midline, slightly caudal to the pectoral
girdle in a pericardial cavity and separate from the cranial part
of the ventral body cavity. It is three chambered with an
incomplete ventricular septum, although functional pulmonary
and systemic circulation is separate. The aortic arches are
paired. The left aorta gives rise to a celiac, left gastric and
cranial mesenteric artery before joining the right aorta caudal
to the heart. Like all reptiles, venous drainage from the pelvic
limb drains into the kidney to form the renal portal system.
Venepuncture sites
(Murray 2000; Redrobe & MacDonald 1999)
Jugular vein This lies very superficially on the
lateral side of the neck and runs from the tympanic
membrane at the angle of the jaw to the base of the
neck (Fig. 3.17).
Dorsal coccygeal vein The coccygeal vertebrae lack
dorsal spines and the vein runs quite superficially.
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1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
1
2
12
3
4
5
1
2
3
4
Marginals
Vertebral
Cervical
Pleural
Gular
Humeral
Femoral
Anal
Abdominal
Pectoral
Figure 3.16 Epidermal scutes of plastron.
Figure 3.15 Epidermal scutes of carapace.
Color and patterns
Many male Red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta) go melanis-
tic with age. When young they often have striking yellow
plastrons, with clear patterns that become obliterated by
pigment as they age (Hoffstetter & Gasc 1970).
Ecdysis
Like all reptiles, chelonians shed their skin but it tends to
be in a piecemeal fashion. Aquatic terrapins shed their scutes
as they grow, with the old scutes loosening first at the edges
and then toward the center.
Pyramidal growth of the shell may be caused by excess
protein being available during the growing phase.
For example, if herbivorous tortoises are fed on dog food
when juvenile this results in excessive growth surges and an
imbalance in keratin production.
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POINTS
Small head but incredibly strong retractor muscles
Neck and tail are flexible but rest of spine is fused with
shell, rib cage, and plastron
No expandable rib cage
Each shoulder is tripartite
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Dorsal occipital venous plexus This sinus cannot be
visualized. The head is extended and needle inserted
lateral to the cervical vertebrae, just cranial to the
carapace. It is the best location in marine turtles.
Toenail This is least recommended as it is painful and
samples can be contaminated with urates.
IMMUNE SYSTEM
The lymphatic circulation is intimately associated with the
circulatory system in chelonia and can pose a major compli-
cation in blood sampling. The deep jugular trunk passes
close to the jugular vein and a subpubic sinus, which drains
the tail, cloaca, and caudal limbs can affect blood samples
from the dorsal coccygeal vein.
The skin has a network of lymphatic vessels that are
widely meshed, becoming superficial near the attachment
of skin to the shell. The orbits have two lymphatic sinuses
that extend into both eyelids. A single pair of lymphatic
hearts lies at the most caudal part of the trunk, deep to the
last vertebral shield of the carapace.
Some species, like the Red-eared sliders (Trachemys
scripta) and European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis), have
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a lymphatic ring around the base of the neck (Ottaviani &
Tazzi 1977) (Fig. 3.18).
RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Chelonia can make difficult anesthetic patients because
they can easily switch to the dive reflex and employ
anaerobic respiration (Fig. 3.19). They have the highest
bicarbonate (HCO
3
) level of all vertebrates, which helps
them buffer lactic acid accumulation during anaero-
biasis.
Figure 3.17 Blood sampling from jugular vein in a Spur-thigh tortoise
(Testudo graeca).
Lymphatic
neck ring
Precardiac
sinus
Thoracic duct
(right and left branches)
Trachea
Thyroid
gland
Jugular trunk
Figure 3.18 Lymphatic neck ring in the Red-eared slider (Trachemys
scripta) and European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis).
Figure 3.19 Induction of anesthesia can be difficult in aquatic species.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Upper respiratory tract
Chelonia breathe with their mouth closed. Air enters via
the external nares into the nasal cavity and passes through
the partial hard palate to the pharynx. The glottis is easily
visible at the back of the short, fleshy tongue. The trachea
has complete cartilaginous rings. In Cryptodira species the
trachea is very short and bifurcates rapidly to allow for
head retraction.
Lower respiratory tract
The lungs are spongy and occupy a large volume in the dorsal
half of the body cavity, although their volume is reduced to
one fifth when the head and limbs are retracted (Gans &
Hughes 1967). They are attached dorsally to the periosteum
of the carapace and tightly against the pectoral and pelvic
limb girdles. They are not surrounded by a pleural cavity
and are only separated from the ventral cavity and viscera
by a thin non-muscular postpulmonary septum, which plays
no active part in respiration (Murray 1996b; Perry 1989).
Internally, chelonian lungs are surprisingly advanced for
such a primitive reptile (Fig. 3.20). They are multicameral,
as in the Monitor lizard, with a single intrapulmonary bronchus
radiating into a network of bronchioles and highly vascular
faveoli (Perry 1989). However, unlike in the Monitor lizard,
the lungs are confined only to the dorsal half of the body,
with the heart lying cranially near the pectoral inlet (Figs.
3.213.23) (see Chapter 4).
Ventilation
The absence of a diaphragm and the fact that they have
modified their ribs, sternum, and vertebrae into a hard shell
means there is no expandable chest (McCutcheon). There-
fore, in order to breathe, chelonians have developed strong
trunk muscles, which expand and contract the lungs with
active inspiration and expiration (Fig. 3.24) (Gans & Hughes
1967; McCutcheon 1943; Pough 1998a). It is the action
of these antagonistic muscles moving the ventral postpul-
monary septum that draws air in and out of the lungs.
Terrestrial species breathe regularly but aquatic species can
only breathe when they surface for air, otherwise the high
volume of air would act as a natural buoyancy aid.
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Figure 3.20 Schematic drawing of multicameral lungs of Chelonia.
Despite their ancient lineage and primitive appearance chelonians have
more advanced lungs than snakes and some lizards.
Remember, most chelonians have a very short trachea, so
when intubating do not insert the endotracheal tube too far
as you may be intubating one primary bronchus instead
(Murray 1996a; Gans & Hughes 1967).
CLINICAL NOTE
Pericardial
cavity
Postpulmonary
septum
Primary
bronchus
Pleural cavity Peritoneal cavity
Figure 3.21 Lateral view of chelonian (left lung,
liver and stomach removed). The heart occupies a
cranial position because the lungs are restricted to
the dorsal thorax.
When Chelonia have their head retracted inside their shell
they can no longer move their pectoral girdle, so they have
to breathhold.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Terrestrial (tortoises)
The four groups of abdominal muscles vary between terres-
trial and aquatic species.
Inspiration
The serratus muscle arises from the front of the carapace
to insert on the coracoid while the abdominal obliquus inserts
on the skin of the hindlimb. When these two muscles contract
they create negative pressure and active inspiration. The
forelimbs rotate out of the shell, pulling the septum ventrally
and causing the lungs to expand and draw in air via the
trachea and bronchi (Gans & Hughes 1967; Pough 2002;
Wood & Lenfant 1976).
Expiration
The pectoralis muscle extends from the plastron to the
humerus, and the tranversus abdominus originates from
the back of the carapace. When these two muscles
contract, the forelimbs rotate back into the shell, pulling
the membrane forward and putting pressure on ventral
viscera to expel gas (Gans & Hughes 1967; Pough et al.
2002).
Aquatic turtles
In aquatic species, respiration is aided by the hydrostatic
pressure of water, which can draw air in and out of the lungs
(Pough 2002). There are four groups of muscles involved in
the respiratory cycle. Inspiration is created by the testo-
coracoideus, which runs from the carapace to the medial
scapula and dorsal coracoid, and the obliquus abdominis
muscles, which help expand the cavity to create negative
pressure. Expiration is via the diaphragmaticus and the trans-
versus abdominis muscle, which compresses the celomic
cavity (McCutcheon 1943; Wood & Lenfant 1976).
Accessory respiratory organs
Some semi-aquatic freshwater turtles possess the ability to
absorb oxygen via well vascularized cloacal bursae, which
they can use during periods of hibernation underwater.
Others, like the softshelled turtles can remain submerged
for hours in the mud, utilizing oxygen in the water by
breathing through the skin and pharyngeal mucosa.
DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
About 25% of Chelonia are herbivorous (King 1996) and
there are also many omnivores eating some plant matter in
their diet. Omnivores tend to favor sedentary prey like
molluscs and worms.
Chelonians have no teeth so are unable to chew. Instead,
like birds, they have a short horny beak with sharp edges.
Most herbivorous species have a row of hard chewing ridges
on the palate to allow more precise biting of food. Snapping
turtles have very sharp cutting edges to the jaws and can
give quite a ferocious bite (King 1996).
The tongue is short and fleshy and the salivary glands
produce mucus but no digestive enzymes. The esophagus
leads to a simple, spindle-shaped and thicker walled stomach,
which lies embedded in the left lobe of the liver. The liver
is large and divided into two lobes, and a gall bladder may
be found in the right lobe (Figs 3.25 and 3.26). In herbivores
the large intestines are wide in circumference and are the
site for microbial digestion. A cecum may be present but
even in herbivores is not well developed. Digestive enzymes
are produced by the stomach, small intestine, pancreas,
liver, and gall bladder. Passage of food is slow and can take
up to two to four weeks, allowing maximal nutrition to be
absorbed (King 1996).
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Figure 3.22 Lateral radiograph (horizontal beam) showing lung fields.
Figure 3.23 Radiograph (horizontal beam) showing rostrocaudal view
of lungs the best view for assessing the lungs for pneumonia.
Chelonians cannot cough effectively as they lack a diaphragm.
This factor combined with their huge lung volume and lack
of a bronchi-ciliary transport system means they easily get
pneumonia.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
URINARY SYSTEM
Kidneys
The kidneys are large, flat, lobulated organs lying under the
caudal carapace, just caudal to the acetabulum (Fig. 3.26).
Unlike those in other reptiles, they lie symmetrically. Short
ureters and genital ducts enter into a urogenital sinus, which
opens into the floor of the cloaca. Urine passes from the
urodeum retrograde into a large, saclike, ventrally placed
urinary bladder. This is usually bilobed with the liver lying
over the right lobe.
Terrestrial species use this to store water for long periods
to facilitate water resorption. Some species have cloacal
bladders, which may be extra water storage chambers
and may also serve as respiratory chambers for species
that hibernate underwater for weeks (Bentley 1976; Fox
1977).
REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
Sex determination
Temperature-dependent sex determination is common in
Chelonia and discussed in more detail in Chapter 2.
Male
The testes are long, yellow and oval and attached to the
cranioventral pole of the kidneys. The vasa deferentia run
alongside the ureters to the cloaca. The ventral proctodeum
is modified and thickened into a single phallus (Fig. 2.13).
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Figure 3.24 Lateral view of tortoise
showing lungs and demonstrating inspiratory
and expiratory muscles of respiration.
Red = Inspiratory muscles
Gray = Expiratory muscles
Transverse
abdominus
Posterior
limiting
membrane
Abdominal oblique
Serratus
Pectoralis
Lung
Red
Gray
= Inspiratory muscles
= Expiratory muscles
The proximity of the genital ducts to the bladder means
eggs may drop into the bladder if the female strains while
laying.
CLINICAL NOTE
The male plastron is concave while the females is flat or
convex. This is more pronounced in species with high
domed shells, to facilitate copulation (Zangerl 1970).
The tail is often longer and thicker in the male.
The vent in the male is situated beyond the outer margin
of the carapace.
Male aquatic species have longer claws on the forelimbs
(Evans 1986).
SEXUAL DETERMINATION
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This consists of two pairs of fibrous tissue separated by a
central trough that, unlike in snakes and lizards, cannot be
inverted. This tissue is highly vascular and when inserted
into the cloaca of the female it becomes engorged. Semen
is conveyed down the central sulcus. A retractor muscle then
returns the phallus back into the cloaca (Bellairs 1969c).
Female
The paired ovaries lie symmetrically, cranial to the kidneys.
They are irregular, saclike, and paired, with different sized
ova that become prominent with mature follicles (Fig. 3.27).
The females in some species can retain sperm in their uterus
so they can successfully fertilize two or more clutches,
often several years after copulation (Pough 1998a).
All chelonians are oviparous. Temperate species lay eggs
with soft, flexible leathery shells that can absorb or lose
moisture. Tropical species and most land tortoises lay an
egg with a hard brittle shell to prevent water loss. In
general soft-shelled eggs develop more rapidly than hard-
shelled ones. Incubation can be as little as 2 months in
some temperate species but 89 months in some tropical
species. Egg hatching will depend on climate conditions
like spring warmth or seasonal rains (Minnich 1982; Pough
1998b).
Copulation
Courtship and mating is very vocal with lots of grunting,
crying, and barking. The male mounts from the rear and
fertilization is internal.
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Trachea
Esophagus
Primary
bronchus
Right atrium
Parathyroid
Thyroid
Stomach
Urinary
bladder
Small
intestine
Vent
Ascending colon
Large colon
Liver
Spleen
Ventricle
Lungs
Figure 3.25 Ventral view of chelonian after
plastron and trunk muscles have been removed
to show gross anatomy.
The male Red-eared slider swims backward in front of the
female, stroking her face with his long claws and eventually
luring her underwater for copulation. As it can take over an
hour they have to occasionally surface for air!
GENERAL INTEREST
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
SENSES
Sight
Vision is highly developed and based on color vision. The
orbit is walled on three sides and, as in lizards and birds, the
globe is surrounded by scleral ossicles. They have scaled
eyelids and a third eyelid is usually present. The lacrimal
gland is modified into a salt gland in marine turtles. They
have no nasolacrimal ducts and so lose tears by evaporation
(Underwood 1970).
Accommodation occurs by contraction of both the ciliary
muscles and the iris sphincter muscle, which is presumably
an adaptation to terrestrial and aquatic existence. Chelonians
also have an upwardly tilted palpebral aperture to aid swim-
ming with the head on the surface of the water (Under-
wood 1970). The retina is avascular.
Olfaction
The sense of smell is well developed and linked both to the
nasal cavity and Jacobsons organ. In chelonians, however,
this organ is not a distinct outpouching but just a localized
area of sensory epithelium (Parsons 1970).
Hearing
Hearing is poor. There is no external ear but an incon-
spicuous tympanic membrane covered in skin is present in
some species. The columella and tympanic cavity are large
and a common site for aural abscesses. The middle ear
communicates with the pharynx through the narrow audi-
tory (eustachian) tube which is visible inside the pharynx
just caudal to the jaw (Murray 1996a; Young 1997).
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Female sea turtles have often been described as weeping as
they dig their nest and lay their eggs. This is not for
sentimental reasons but simply due to tear overflow from the
salt gland that occurs because of the absence of a lacrimal
duct.
GENERAL INTEREST
Esophagus
Lungs
Liver
Gall bladder
Colon
Testes
Kidney
Coprodeum
Ureter
Urinary
bladder
Vent
Tail
Proctodeum
Urodeum
Pelvis
Small
intestine
Spleen
Heart
Trachea
Thyroid
Stomach
Figure 3.26 Midsagittal view of chelonian
to show gross anatomy.
Figure 3.27 Post mortem appearance of ovarian follicular stasis in a
solitary kept Spur-thigh tortoise (Testudo graeca) that died from pneumonia.
Note the huge muscles mass of the cranial and caudal trunk muscles.
Ch03.qxd 3/9/05 2:41 PM Page 54
REFERENCES
Bartholomew, G. A. (1982) Physiological control of body
temperature. In C. Gans & F. H. Pough (eds.), Biology of the
reptilia. Vol. 12, Physiology C. London: Academic Press.
pp. 167204.
Bellairs, A. (1969a) The life of reptiles. Vol. 1. London:
Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Body form, skeleton and locomotion;
pp. 44116.
Bellairs, A. (1969b) The life of reptiles. Vol. 2. London:
Weidenfeld and Nicolson. The skin; pp. 283332.
Bellairs, A. (1969c) The life of reptiles. Vol. 2. London:
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Bellairs, A. (1969d) The life of reptiles. Vol 2. London:
Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Growth, age and regeneration;
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Bentley, P. J. (1976) Osmoregulation. In C. Gans & W. R. Dawson
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Boyer, T. H., & Boyer, D. M. (1996) Turtles, tortoises and terrapins.
In D. R. Mader (ed.), Reptile medicine and surgery. Philadelphia:
WB Saunders. pp.6178.
Enlow, D. H. (1970) The bone of reptiles. In C. Gans (ed.),
Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 1, Morphology A. London: Academic
Press. pp. 4577.
Evans, H. E. (1986) Reptiles Introduction and anatomy. In M.
E. Fowler (ed.), Zoo and wild animal medicine, 2nd edn.
Philadelphia: WB Saunders. pp. 108132.
Fox, H. (1977) The urogenital system of reptiles. In C. Gans & T.
Parsons (eds.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 6, Morphology E.
London: Academic Press. pp. 1122.
Gans, C. & Hughes, G. M. (1967) The mechanism of lung
ventilation in the tortoise Testudo Graeca Linne. Journal
of Experimental Biology 47, 120.
Gregory, P. T. (1982) Reptilian hibernation. In C. Gans (ed.),
Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 13, Physiology D. London: Academic
Press. pp. 53140.
Hoffstetter, R., & Gasc, J. P. (1970) Vertebrae and ribs of modern
reptiles. In C. Gans (ed.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 1,
Morphology A. London: Academic Press. pp. 201302.
King, G. (1996) Reptiles and herbivory. London: Chapman & Hall.
Turtles and tortoises; pp. 4760.
McCutcheon, F. H. (1943) The respiratory mechanism of turtles.
Physiological Zoology 16: 255.
Minnich, J. E. (1982) The use of water. In C. Gans & F. H. Pough
(eds.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 12, Physiology C. London:
Academic Press. pp. 325386.
Murray, M. J. (1996a) Aural abscess. In D. R. Mader (ed.),
Reptile medicine and surgery. Philadelphia: WB Saunders.
pp. 349352.
Murray, M. J. (1996b) Pneumonia and normal respiratory function.
In D. R. Mader (ed.), Reptile medicine and surgery. Philadelphia:
WB Saunders. pp. 396405.
Murray, M. J. (2000) Reptilian blood sampling and artifact
considerations. In A. Fudge (ed.), Laboratory medicine avian
and exotic pets. Philadelphia: WB Saunders. pp. 185191.
Ottaviani, G., & Tazzi, A. (1977) The lymphatic system. In C. Gans
& T. Parsons (eds.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 6, Morphology E.
London: Academic Press. pp. 315458.
Parsons, T. S. (1970) The nose and Jacobsons organs. In C.
Gans (ed.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 2, Morphology B. London:
Academic Press. pp. 99185.
Perry, S. F. (1989) Structure and function of the reptilian respiratory
system. In S. C. Wood (ed.), Comparative pulmonary physiology
current concepts. New York: Dekker. pp. 193237.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al. (1998a) Herpetology.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Classification and diversity
of extant reptiles; pp. 75133.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al. (1998b) Herpetology.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Reproduction and life
history; pp. 204235.
Pough, F. H., Janis, C. M., & Heiser, J. B. (2002) Vertebrate life,
6th edn. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Turtles;
pp. 270294.
Redrobe, S., MacDonald, J. (1999) Sample collection and clinical
pathology of reptiles. In D. R. Reavill (ed.), Clinical pathology
and sample collection. The Veterinary Clinics of North America:
Exotic animal practice. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: WB Saunders.
pp. 709730.
Seymour, R. S. (1982) Physiological adaptations to aquatic life. In C.
Gans (ed.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 13, Physiology D. London:
Academic Press. pp. 141.
Underwood, G. (1970) The eye. In C. Gans (ed.), Biology of the
Reptilia. Vol. 2, Morphology B. London: Academic Press.
pp. 193.
Walker, W. F. (1973) The locomotor apparatus of testudines. In C.
Gans & T. Parsons (eds.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 4,
Morphology D. London: Academic Press. pp. 199.
Wood, S. C., & Lenfant, C. J. (1976) Respiration: Mechanics, control
and gas exchange. In C. Gans & W. R. Dawson (eds.), Biology
of the reptilia. Vol. 5, Physiology A. London: Academic Press.
pp. 225267.
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Chelonia with a diet deficient in Vitamin A develop squamous
metaplasia of the tympanic cavity lining. This allows bacteria
ascending the eustachian tube from the pharynx to colonize,
leading to chronic aural abscessation. Unlike in mammals, this
pus is caseous and solid because reptiles lack the lysozymes
to produce liquid pus; hence surgery is necessary to debride
and curette the lesion, along with a requirement to improve
husbandry and diet (Murray 1996a).
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POI NTS
Lymphatics lie very close to blood vessels so
lymphdilution is common
Trachea is short and lungs have large volume
Dive reflex and easy anaerobic metabolism can
complicate anesthesia
Bladder is large
Temperature sensitive determination is common
Vision and smell are advanced but hearing is poor
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Young, B. A. (1997) Hearing, taste, tactile reception and olfaction.
In L. Ackermann (ed.), The biology, husbandry and healthcare
of reptiles. Vol. 1, The Biology of reptiles. N.J.: TFH Publications.
pp. 185213.
Zangerl, R. (1970) The turtle shell. In C. Gans (ed.), Biology of the
Reptilia. Vol. 1, Morphology A. London: Academic Press.
pp. 311337.
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Infraorder Family Common species
Iguania Iguanidae Iguana, Anole, Chuckwallas,
Basilisk
Agamidae Agamas, Water & Bearded
dragons
Chamaeleonidae Chameleons
Gekkota Gekkonidae Geckos
Scincomorpha Teiidae Tegus, Ameivas
Scincidae Skinks
Varanoidea Helodermatidae Beaded lizards, Gila monster
Varanidae Monitors, Goanna, Komodo
dragon
INTRODUCTION
Lizards are the most widely distributed of all the reptiles
and are found on every continent, although most species are
found in tropical areas. They are the most diverse of all rep-
tiles, varying from arboreal, flying, and rock dwellers to semi-
aquatic and to the Galapagos marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus
cristatus), which feeds on algae.
In comparison to the shelled chelonians and elongate
limbless snakes, lizards are the least highly specialized. Some
lizard species, like the slow worm (Anguis fragilis), have lost
their limbs so the main way to distinguish lizards from snakes
is that they have a short trunk with a long tail, whereas
snakes have the converse. They also tend to have four limbs, a
shorter, flatter tongue, moveable eyelids, and external ear
openings (Pough 1998a). The two halves of the lower jaw
are firmly united in a mandibular symphysis and they have
several rows of scales on their ventral abdomen (Table 4.1).
Longevity
Smaller lizards live for less than 5 years although Leopard
geckos (Eublepharis macularius) have been reported to live
for 28 years. Larger lizards like iguanas can live for 10 to
20 years. However, the record lies with a European slow worm
(Anguis fragilis) which lived 54 years! (Bellairs 1998h).
Size
Lizards range in size from tiny geckos, weighing a few grams,
to the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), which is 3.6 m
long and can weigh up to 136 kg (Bellairs 1998h). Eighty
percent of lizards, however, weigh under 20 g (Evans 1986;
Pough 2002).
TAXONOMY
The order Squamata (squama is Latin for scale) comprises
95% of reptiles species and is divided into three suborders.
In fact, 51% of known reptiles belong to just three squamate
families: the colubrid snakes (23%), skinks (15%) and geckos
(13%) (Uetz 2000). The Amphisbaenia (worm lizards) are
less well known as they are underground burrowing lizards
and are outside the scope of this book. The remaining subor-
ders are the more familiar Serpentes (snakes) and Sauria/
Lacertilia (lizards). Lizards and snakes have extremely flexible
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Lizards
Sauria (lizards) Serpentes (snakes)
Limbs Absent, two, four Absent (vestigial)
Tongue Short Elongate
Eyelids Present in most Absent
species
External ear Present Absent
Trunk Short Long
Tail Long Short
Mandibular symphysis Present Absent
Ventral scales Several rows Single scales
(Gastropeges)
Table 4.1 Morphological differences between lizards and snakes
Table 4.2 Common Saurian infraorders and families
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
skulls, known as kinetic skulls, whereas worm lizards have
a heavily ossified skull which acts like a battering ram while
burrowing.
THERMOREGULATION
The maximum temperature at which a lizard can survive
varies with the natural habitat of the species. Temperate
lizards die when the temperature exceeds 30 C, tropical ones
at above 35 C, and desert lizards cannot exist in tempera-
tures above 46 C. Tropical species can estivate at times of
drought; temperate and subtropical species can hibernate.
Heliothermic shuttling
Using the hypothalamus as a thermostat (and the parietal eye
in some species), lizards alter their behavior to regulate their
body temperature. In the early morning, lizards choose to bask
on vegetation rather than on rocks that have cooled during
the night and that would absorb heat from them. Later they
move to the more solid surfaces, which have heated up by then.
If they get too hot they seek shade and, as sunset approaches,
they seek shelter before the cold night (Pough 1998c).
Color change
Many lizards are dark colored in the morning, which enables
them to absorb heat and lighten in color as the body warms
up. Some desert lizards have scales with different infrared
absorption dorsally and ventrally so they can absorb or emit
heat depending on the time of day (Bellairs 1969d).
Body posture
Desert lizards can stretch their limbs and lift their bodies
high above the warm surface. Others use the heat of solid
objects warmed by the sun; for example, geckos may rest
under the bark of trees.
GENERAL EXTERNAL ANATOMY
In general lizards are elongated and circular in cross-section,
but arboreal chameleons are vertically compressed and
some lizards, like the Bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps),
are horizontally compressed (Fig. 4.1).
Family: Iguanidae
These are moderate to large in size and include many her-
bivorous species. They have a large, laterally compressed body
with nuchal and dorsal crest, large gular pouch, and con-
spicuous subtympanic plate. The tail is up to three times
the snout-to-vent length and can be whip like. Femoral
pores are prominent in the male. Males are generally more
brightly colored, some displaying an orange hue in the mating
season. The coloring of females tends to wash out with age.
Iguanas are pleurodont and have nasal salt glands. Several
species have a prominent parietal eye. Nearly all are oviparous.
Many have partitions in the colon to slow down food ingesta
(Evans 1986; Pough 1998b).
Examples:
Green iguana (Iguana iguana) (Fig. 4.2), Marine iguana
(Amblyrhynchus cristatus), Chuckwalla (Sauromalus spp.),
Basilisk (Basilicus spp.).
Family: Agamidae
These are mainly terrestrial lizards with well-developed
limbs and are the old world equivalent of Iguanidae. They
have acrodont teeth and some species have almost rodent-
like incisors at the front of the jaw. Some species have sexu-
ally dimorphic crests and spines. They are mainly oviparous.
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Worm lizards are mainly limbless, subterranean lizards and
can move forward and backward with ease underground
(amphisbaenia means one who goes in both ways in
Greek). Their eardrums and eyes are covered with opaque
skin. Unlike lizards, they have very short tails and their skulls
are heavily ossified to facilitate digging (Pough 2002).
GENERAL INTEREST
Figure 4.1 Dorsoventral radiograph of normal Bearded dragon (Pogona
vitticeps). Some substrate is visible in the stomach.
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The South-east Asian Flying lizard (Draco volans) is the
only lizard capable of gliding flight. This is achieved by
having elongated ribs supporting webs of skin which can be
opened like a fan for gliding. The Australian Frilled lizard
has a frill which it can erect when danger threatens (Pough
1998b).
Examples:
Flying lizard (Draco volans), Frilled lizard (Chlamydosaurus
kingii), Water dragon (Physignathus sp.) (Fig. 4.3), Bearded
dragon (Pogona vitticeps).
Family: Chameleonidae
These are arboreal with a laterally compressed body and
are mainly diurnal and insectivorous. The upper and lower
eyelid is fused to form a pyramid mound with the eye as the
aperture in the center. Each eye is capable of independent
movement and they use accommodation to measure distance.
The eye lens is like a telephoto lens and the large retina and
high number of cones provide the chameleon with large
visual images of its prey (Evans 1986).
The tongue is rapidly extensible to a distance of at least
twice the animals trunk length and is used for apprehending
insect prey. The hyoglossal skeleton is modified into an
extension called the processus entoglossus, which at rest
keeps the tongue folded in pleats at the back of the mouth.
A powerful accelerator muscle propels the tongue forward
like a spring. The tongue tip is also sticky to catch the prey.
Jacobsons organ is poorly developed.
Chameleons have very specialized skulls with their parietal
crest raised into a casque. They have lost the skull kinesis
seen in other lizards, which was presumably made redun-
dant by the powerful tongue (Pough 1998e). The acrodont
teeth, unlike in other species, do not have pleurodont teeth
rostrally as the premaxilla is quite reduced with few teeth
there at all. The chameleons laterally compressed bodies
and prehensile feet enable them to keep their center of gravity
over a narrow support base. Their vertical limbs and highly
mobile pectoral girdle gives them a longer step and the
ability to reach forward more onto branches. The feet are
zygodactyl, with toes fused together and opposed in groups
of two and three (Fig. 4.12). The tail is prehensile and
usually tightly coiled distally, with no autotomy. Rapid color
changes are possible. Sexual dimorphism is common. They
can be oviparous or viviparous (Bellairs 1969a, 1969f; Pough
1998b).
Examples:
Yemen veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) (Fig. 4.4),
Parsons chameleon (Calumma parsonii).
Family: Gekkonidae/Eublepharidae
These are crepuscular or nocturnal insectivores with a flat-
tened head and body. Most have adhesive toe pads which
contain rows of tiny overlapping scales ventrally called
lamellae. Each lamella has tiny, branching hairs called setae
which can number up to one million in some gecko species.
The ends of these setae are spatulate and it is the friction
between these endings that creates the adhesive qualities
of the feet and enables them to walk across ceilings and
glass, even holding on by only one foot (Bellairs 1969a; Evans
1986; Pough 1998b).
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Figure 4.2 Green iguana (Iguana iguana).
Figure 4.3 Male Water dragon (Physignathus cocincinus).
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Some species are oviparous; some are viviparous with well-
developed placentation. Except for the herbivorous arbo-
real Solomon Island skink they are mainly insectivorous
(Evans 1986; Pough 1998b).
Examples:
Blue-tongued skinks (Tiliqua spp.), Solomon Island skink
(Corucia zebrata).
SKELETAL SYSTEM
Skull
In most species (except burrowing lizards and skinks) the
head is narrower than the body. Like snakes, lizards have
a kinetic skull which is thought to enable the upper and
lower jaw to be closed simultaneously over prey (Figs. 4.6
and 4.7). The lower jaw is further increased in gape by a
condition known as streptostyly. This is when the quadrate
bone has no firm connection (owing to the absence of the
temporal arch) and can move backward and forward. The
main advantage of this is that it gives the adductor muscles
that close the jaw a better mechanical advantage when
biting (Bellairs 1969a; King 1996b).
Although lizards have a large gape a united mandibular
symphysis means they cannot open their mouths as wide as
snakes. They compensate by having stronger jaws to help
them immobilize, crush or tear at prey.
The adductor muscles extend from the temporal region
to the lower jaw (Fig. 4.8). The main adductor muscle is
the pterygoideus, which arises from the pterygoid bones on
the palate and inserts on the caudal aspect of the lower jaw
where it forms a large belly of muscle. It is this muscle that
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Many have loose skin and fat pads in the tail. Autotomy
is common. Many lack eyelids which, like snakes, are fused
to form a spectacle. They are not sexually dimorphic. They
are oviparous and lay very hard-shelled eggs. Eublepharids
are unusual in that they are terrestrial and have eyelids.
They lack the adhesive lamellae and so are unable to climb.
Examples:
Leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius), Tokay gecko (Gekko
gecko), Standings day gecko (Phelsuma standingi).
Family: Varanidae
These are the giants of the lizard world and can reach a
length of 3.6 m (Komodo dragon). Often called monitor lizards
or, in Australia, goannas. They are stocky with smooth
scales. The tongue is forked for half its length and, as in snakes,
is used more for exploration than tasting (Evans 1986). In
some species ossification of the hemipenes can be seen on
radiographs. Despite their size they are active predators with
higher metabolic rates than most other lizards (Bennett, AF
1972). They are oviparous and have no autotomy (Pough
1998b).
Examples:
Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), Bosc monitor
(Varanus exanthematicus).
Family: Scincidae
These are a large terrestrial family that live mostly on or
underground. They are small to medium in size (520 cm),
are smooth scaled and are glossy in appearance. Osteoderms
are present beneath the scales and the young often have
blue tails (Pough 1998b). The limbs are short in relation to
the body and some species are completely limbless. (Different
species may have four limbs, two limbs or no limbs) (Fig. 4.5).
They have a prominent ear opening; eyelids are fused to
form a spectacle in some. The tail can be lost and regenerates.
Figure 4.4 Yemen veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) perching,
showing high helmet casque and zygodactyl feet.
Figure 4.5 Skinks have short limbs relative to body size and prominent
ear openings. The tail can be lost and regenerates.
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can give the heavy jowled appearance to male lizards. The
depressor mandible, which opens the jaw, arises from the
back of the skull and inserts on the retroarticular process of
the mandible. It is much weaker than the muscles that close
the jaw (Bellairs 1969b; King 1996a).
Lizards are very mobile, having a flexible backbone, well-
developed legs, and a long tail for counterbalance. All the
vertebrae except the cervical ones bear ribs, leaving little
flank area. Ventrally the ribs either join the sternum, the
opposite member, or end free in the body wall. The number
of tail vertebrae is usually higher than the number of presacral
vertebrae.
More primitive lizards and tortoises have short limbs
directed sideways, giving them their characteristic swinging
gait. Advanced lizards have rotated these limbs towards the
body so that the elbow faces caudally and the knee cranially.
This form of limb orientation creates limbs that act as better
shock absorbers.
Pectoral girdle and forelimbs
The pectoral girdle is composed of the scapula, coracoid
bone and clavicle, and often an interclavicle. The forelimb
has a short humerus and radius/ulna, with two rows of carpal
bones. Both fore and hind feet are pentadactyl and the
number of phalanges follows the formula 2,3,4,5,3 (from
thumb to fifth digit), which gives rise to an asymmetrical
foot (Fig. 4.9).
Pelvic girdle and hindlimbs
The pelvic girdle consists of a caudodorsally directed ilium,
ischium and pubis and is firmly braced against the sacrum.
The hindlimb is longer than the forelimb, owing to the elon-
gated femur and phalanges. The tarsal bones have fused to
form two bones called the astragalus-calcaneum, which
articulates with the tibia and fibula. Flexion occurs between
this joint and the rest of the foot. The hind foot has the
first four metatarsal bones lying together while the fifth
metatarsal lies separated with a backward-pointing hook.
This allows the fifth digit to be opposed to the first, giving
a better grip (Bellairs 1969a; King & Custance 1982; Pough
1998d) (Fig. 4.10).
Burrowing lizards have lost their limbs but, unlike snakes,
they still retain their pectoral and pelvic girdle. Some lizards
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Figure 4.7 Skull of lizard.
Prefrontal
Frontal Postfrontal
Parietal
Squamosal
Postorbital
Quadrate
Epipterygoid
Articular
Angular
Surangular
Coronoid
Dentary
Jugal
Premaxilla
Lachrimal
Maxilla
Nasal
Pterygoid
Figure 4.6 Skull of juvenile bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps).
Always use a mouth gag when examining the mouths of large
healthy lizards as the jaw can close like a trapdoor causing
considerable damage and pain to unwary fingers.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
can hold their forelegs off the ground and run along on
their hindlimbs in bipedal motion. Such species generally
have a long tail as a counterbalance and lightweight thigh
muscles.
Feet often have specialized adaptations. Many geckos
have adhesive lamellae on their digits that allow them to
walk on smooth vertical surfaces (Fig. 4.11). Chameleons
have pincer-like zygodactyl feet with the first and second
digits opposing the third and fifth (Figs. 4.4 and 4.12).
Tail
Most reptiles have numerous caudal vertebrae and the tail
can be prehensile, like in chameleons, or a site of fat storage,
as in the Leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius).
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External adductor
(jaw closing)
Pterygoideus
(Jaw closing)
Depressor
mandibulae
(Jaw opening)
Figure 4.8 Diagram of lizard skull showing main adductor (jaw closing)
muscles. As the adductor muscles are extremely strong a mouth gag
should be used when handling large lizards.
The Basilisk lizards (Basilicus spp.) have webbing on their feet
and can run bipedally across water to escape from predators.
This has earned them the local nickname of Jesus Christ
Lizard (Bellairs 1969a; Pough 1998d).
GENERAL INTEREST
Figure 4.9 Radiograph of right forefoot of Green iguana (iguana iguana)
showing osteomyelitis at phalanges 34 of fourth digit. Both fore- and hind
feet are pentadactyl in lizards with the number of phalanges following the
formula 2,3,4,5,3 from thumb to fifth digit.
Figure 4.10 Right hind foot of lizard showing first four metatarsals and
separately attached fifth digit.
Figure 4.11 Ventral view of gecko foot showing subdigital adhesive
lamellae. These enable geckos to walk upside down on smooth surfaces.
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Autotomy
Autotomy means self-amputation and is a mechanism to
escape from predators. When the animal is attacked the
brightly colored tail will break off and wriggle for a few minutes
to distract the attacker, allowing the lizard to escape. It occurs
in many lizards, such as the iguana, skink, and gecko species,
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where the tail is not essential for survival (Figs. 4.13 and
4.14). However, species like chameleons and monitors, which
rely on their tail for climbing and defense, do not shed their
tails. Similarly, the Marine iguana, which relies on its large
rudder tail for swimming in the sea, lacks fracture planes.
Autotomy is created by a vertical fracture plane, con-
taining no bone, passing through the body and part of the
neural arch of each caudal vertebra (Bellairs 1998h; Bellairs
& Bryant 1985; Evans 1986; Pough 1998b). This is a plate
of cartilage or connective tissue that develops after ossifi-
cation. These are not present in the cranial part of the tail
so the cloaca and hemipenes are protected. In iguanas the
fracture plane is replaced by bone during maturation, resulting
in a more stable tail in adults.
Figure 4.12 Dorsoventral radiograph of Panther chameleon (Furcifer
pardalis) showing zygodactyl feet.
Figure 4.13 Ends of tail post autotomy in a Green iguana (iguana iguana).
After autotomy the stump should never be stitched as the
broken tail rapidly forms its own scab that is followed by growth
of new epidermis within a week or two. Bleeding is minimal,
owing to the action of sphincter muscles in the caudal arteries
and valves in the veins. After about 2 weeks regeneration
begins and a cylinder of cartilage is formed. This may become
calcified, but as it has no individual tail vertebrae it is less
flexible than the original model. It is innervated mainly by the
last spinal nerves. It is finally covered by scales, which are
often smaller and a different color from the original tail
(Bellairs 1998h; Bellairs & Bryant 1985; Pough 2002).
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POINTS
Kinetic jaw for wide gape
Large well-developed adductor (jaw-closing) muscles,
so mind your fingers!
Hind foot has first four metatarsal bones lying together
while fifth metatarsal lies separated with backward-
pointing hook
Tail can self amputate (autotomy)
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
The heart has three chambers: two atria and one ventricle,
and lies cranially at the level of the pectoral girdle in most
lizards (Fig. 4.15). In the more advanced lizards like moni-
tors (Varanus spp.) the heart has descended caudally to lie
in the middle of the thoracoabdominal cavity. Paired right
and left aorta fuse caudal to it to form the dorsal aorta. A
large ventral abdominal vein lies along the inner surface of
the midline so this must be avoided when making a celiotomy
incision (Barten 1996; Bennett & Mader 1996). A renal portal
system is present, as in all reptiles.
Larger lizards (and crocodiles) have a vasovagal reflex
whereby pressure on the eyeballs decreases the heart rate and
blood pressure. This can be used by clinicians to perform
non-painful procedures like radiography (Bennett, RA 1996).
Venepuncture sites
(See Murray 2000; Redrobe & MacDonald 1999.)
Ventral coccygeal vein The vein must be accessed
caudal to the cloaca to avoid damaging the hemipenes
in males. Access is usually about one third of the way
from the vent and the needle is inserted ventrally in
the midline. In some species a lateral approach may be
used by inserting the needle perpendicular to the tail
and ventral to the lateral vertebral processes
(Murray 2000).
Cardiac as the heart cannot be held this is not as safe
in lizards as in snakes.
Axillary venous plexus this is located near the
shoulder joint at the caudal aspect of the humerus.
Lymph dilution can occur.
Ventral abdominal vein this vein is very fragile so
anesthesia is advisable to avoid lacerating it. The vein is
approached two thirds of the distance caudally on the
midline where it lies superficially just under the skin
and muscle and is useful for lizards, like geckos,
with short tails (Murray 2000).
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Incise paramedian or alternatively incise the linea alba with
caution as the ventral abdominal vein is suspended in the
broad ligament and is only a few millimeters away. Keep it
protected with saline gauze during the procedure.
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 4.15 Lateral (horizontal beam) radiograph of Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis). The heart lies at the pectoral inlet in most lizards. More
advanced lizards like the monitors (Varanus spp.) have the heart lying more caudally in mid celom.
The Horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) is a desert ground
dweller that is found in the southern USA and Mexico and
which can squirt blood from its eye when under attack.
This is achieved by a pair of muscles, which restrict the
blood outflow from the internal jugulars, causing an
increase in blood pressure and leakage from the ocular
venous sinuses. When threatened the lizard closes its eyes,
which become swollen, and then shoots out a fine stream
of blood from the eyelid margins (Barten 1996; Evans 1986;
White 1976).
GENERAL INTEREST
Spinal cord
Caudal artery
Caudal vein
Dorsal fat band
Ventral fat band
Figure 4.14 Diagram of end on view of tail stump post autotomy.
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RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Apart from gas exchange, the lizard uses its lungs for threat
and display, buoyancy, escaping from predators and
vocalization. It achieves this by having large volume, highly
compliant lungs that can easily be inflated by gular
pumping (Perry & Duncker 1978; Wood & Lenfant
1976).
Upper respiratory tract
The lizard palate has two long slit-like openings rostrally
where the internal nares and Jacobsons organs open into
the mouth and this can be a common site for discharges to
develop. The glottis is variable in location and can be found
very rostrally or at the back of the tongue, depending on
the species. It is normally closed except during inspiration
and expiration (Fig. 4.16).
Lower respiratory tract
The trachea has incomplete tracheal rings and bifurcates in
the thoracic cavity near the heart. As they have no diaphragm,
lizards breathe by expansion and contraction of the ribs. All
three structural lung types are found in lizards: unicameral,
paucicameral and multicameral (Fig. 4.17).
Unicameral lungs
Primitive lizards (e.g., the Green lizard, Lacerta viridis)
lack any division between the pleural and peritoneal cavi-
ties. The heart lies in the pectoral inlet and the lungs form
extensive hollow sacs that consist of a single chamber,
hence unicameral (Fig. 4.18). They generally occupy the
cranial part of the pleuroperitoneum but in some lizards
like skinks (Scincidae) they have caudal non-respiratory
dilatation, similar to airsacs. These airsacs are poorly vascu-
larized and so can be a site of infection (Perry 1989; Perry
& Duncker 1978).
Paucicameral lungs
Intermediate species have developed a membrane like a
postpulmonary septum that connects to the pericardium.
These paucicameral lungs have finer partitioning, with some
having large caudal dilatations like airsacs (Fig. 4.19). In
species like the chameleons these can be inflated to increase
lung volume by over 40% in order to ward off predators
(Perry 1989; Perry & Duncker 1978).
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Figure 4.16 Open mouth view of lizard showing open glottis.
Respiration in reptiles is triphasic with the pause phase being the longest.
(a)
(b)
(c)
Figure 4.17
(a) Unicameral lung of simple lizard (e.g., Green lizard, Lacerta viridis)
(b) Paucicameral lungs with a few simple divisions. In some lizards, like the
Common chameleon (Chamaeleo chameleon) there are airsac dilatations
caudally.
(c) Multicameral lungs are more advanced multichambered lungs with a
single intrapulmonary bronchus.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Multicameral lungs
In the more advanced monitor lizards the postpulmonary
septum completely divides the lungs in the pleural cavity
from the peritoneal cavity. The lungs more closely resemble
the lungs of primitive mammals and occupy the cranial dorsal
and ventral cavity. As they have expanded cranioventrally
the heart now occupies a more caudal position on the mid
sternum rather than at the pectoral inlet. Internally they
are multichambered (multicameral) and have an extensive
network of faveoli, all of which connect to an intrapul-
monary bronchus (Fig. 4.20). Large volume and highly
compliant lungs give an increased tidal volume and low
respiratory rate (Bellairs 1969d; Bennett, AF 1972; Perry
1989; Perry & Duncker 1978).
Respiration cycle
Both inspiration and expiration are active processes that are
followed by a non-ventilatory portion of varying length (up
to 30 minutes in some species) (Wood & Lenfant 1976).
Respiration is based on the negative celomic pressure that
is produced by the intercostal muscles, aided by the trunk
and abdominal muscles. In addition the lung walls contain
smooth muscle that contracts and relaxes.
Like all reptiles, lizards have little capacity for aerobic
respiration and switch to anaerobic quite fast; hence, they
cannot sustain activity for long but work better in bursts.
However, the large Australian Sand monitor (Varanus gouldii),
has twice the aerobic capacity of other reptiles due to its
highly developed lung falveoli and more myoglobin. This
means it can sustain vigorous activity for longer without
getting fatigued (Bennett, AF 1972).
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Pleuroperitoneal cavity
Primary
bronchus
Pericardial
cavity
Primary
bronchus
Pericardial
cavity
Postpulmonary septum
Pleuroperitoneal cavity
Figure 4.18 Unicameral lizard schematic
diagram of celomic cavities (left lung, liver lobe
and stomach removed). In primitive lizards, the
lack of a postpulmonary septum results in their
having an extensive combined pleuroperi-
toneal cavity. The heart is located cranially in
the pectoral region.
Figure 4.19 Paucicameral lizard schematic
drawing (left lung, liver lobe and stomach
removed) of celomic cavities showing small
postpulmonary septum and partial separation
between pleural and peritoneal cavities. The
heart is located in the pectoral region.
Lizards use the same intercostal muscles for breathing as for
locomotion and so they actually cease breathing while running
and then stop to breathe, which may explain why they are
often active in short bursts (Pough 1998c).
CLINICAL NOTE
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DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
The majority of lizards are omnivorous and carnivorous;
only about 40 species are herbivorous and these tend to be
larger in body size.
Prehension of food
Carnivorous lizards ingest their prey in two ways: small prey
are seized and crushed by the jaws. Large prey are ingested
by what is called inertia feeding. This is where the prey is
lifted off the ground and shaken violently and then the jaws
relax and slide forward over the inert prey item (Pough 1998e).
Dentition
Unlike snakes and chelonians, lizards do chew their food
and will tear off pieces if the food item is too big to swallow.
Lizard teeth are simple conical structures that have no sockets
and are regularly shed and replaced in waves to always
ensure there are adequate teeth for prehension of food.
The replacement tooth is formed in the mucosa of the
base, rather than below it as in mammals (Edmund 1970;
King 1996b). Lizards can have either pleurodont or acrodont
teeth (Fig. 4.21).
Pleurodont
Pleurodont teeth are attached to the inner sides of the
mandible and are found in iguanids and varanids. These teeth
are continually shed and replaced by new teeth forming at
the lingual side of the base. The gingival margin is just
behind the bony crest supporting the teeth (Edmund 1970;
King 1996b).
Lizards
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Primary
bronchus
Pleural cavity
Postpulmonary
septum
Pericardial
cavity
Peritoneal cavity
Figure 4.20 Multicameral lizard (Monitor
lizards) schematic drawing showing complete
separation of pleural from peritoneal cavities.
This has allowed the lungs to expand cranially
and ventrally causing the pericardial sac and
heart to move caudally into the mid celom.
(a)
(b)
Figure 4.21 Lizard dentition.
(a) Acrodonts, such as the
agamids and chameleons, have
the teeth attached to the biting
edges of the mandible and
maxilla.
(b) Pleurodonts, such as the
iguanids and varanids, have the
teeth attached to the inner
sides of the mandible.
Iguanas have a rapid rate of teeth replacement. Each quadrant
of their mouth has about 20 to 30 teeth and these are
replaced up to five times a year, so a medium-sized iguana
can replace 500 teeth a year!
CLINICAL NOTE
Acrodont
Acrodont teeth are attached to the biting edges of the mandible
and maxillae and are found in agamids and chameleons.
They are not replaced throughout life and wear with age,
leaving the jaw to act as a cutting edge in the end. In most
acrodont species (with the exception of the chameleon)
the most rostral teeth are pleurodont (McCracken 1999).
Egg tooth
Newly hatched lizards have an egg tooth on the rostrome-
dial side of the premaxilla. This is a modified premaxillary
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
tooth and helps to slit the eggshell during hatching. Many
species of gecko have a double egg tooth (Edmund 1970).
Venom
There are only two species of poisonous lizard: the Gila
monster (Heloderma suspectum) and the Mexican Beaded
lizard (Heloderma horridum), which come from the south-
western US and Mexico. Unlike snakes, the venom is located
in large sublingual glands in the lateral lower jaw. The venom
is secreted via ducts into the labial side of the mandible
where adjacent grooved teeth transfer the neurotoxic venom
(Barten 1996; Bellairs 1969c; Pough 1998e).
Tongue
The tongue is mobile and protrusible and attached to the hyoid
apparatus at its base. It functions to bring scent particles to
Jacobsons organ for olfaction, and for lapping, swallowing,
and moving food through the oral cavity. Taste buds are
poorly developed. In chameleons it is used for food prehen-
sion and the sticky tip can be projected rapidly over half
the length of its body to catch prey (Liem et al. 2001). In
monitors and tegus it is deeply forked and is used for
exploring the environment, as in snakes. The Leopard gecko
uses its mobile pink tongue to clean its corneas after feeding
(Evans 1986).
Gastrointestinal tract
The gastrointestinal tract of insectivores and omnivores is
relatively simple (Figs. 4.22 and 4.23). A short, thin-walled
esophagus enters the stomach on the left side of the
abdomen. The stomach is tubular and simple and leads
into a short small intestine and large intestine. Unlike the
avian gizzard the swallowing of stones to aid digestion is
not normal behavior in lizards. Some species like geckos
use their tail for fat storage as an emergency energy source
(Fig. 4.24).
Herbivores
Only about 3% of lizards are herbivorous (King 1996b) and
most are found in the families Iguanidae (e.g., Green iguana)
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Lizards drink with their tongue, putting it slowly in and out of
water, whereas snakes prefer to immerse their head in water
and gulp it down.
CLINICAL NOTE
In the Green iguana the rostral tip of the tongue is a darker
pink color but this should not be mistaken for a pathological
lesion (Barten 1996).
CLINICAL NOTE
Trachea
Right
atrium
Parathyroids
Thymus
Thyroid
Ventricle Lungs
Liver
Gall bladder
Pancreas
Colon
Urinary
bladder
Rectum Cloaca
Ureter
Kidney
Stomach
Esophagus
Spleen
Left oviduct
Left ovary
Right ovary
Small
intestine
Figure 4.22 Ventral view of female lizard showing internal anatomy.
The gingival margin lies further back from the teeth in
acrodont lizards, making species like Bearded dragons
(Pogona vitticeps) and Water dragons (Physignathus spp.) more
prone to periodontal disease if fed an inappropriate diet
(McCracken 1999).
CLINICAL NOTE
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and Agamidae (e.g., Uromastyx). Many herbivores have
blunt heads like tortoises, giving them powerful jaw muscu-
lature for mastication. Both pleurodont and acrodont teeth
can occur. Unlike insectivores, which eat bite-sized insects,
herbivores have to crop down pieces of vegetation and so
use their teeth as if they were scissors. However, unlike in
herbivorous mammals, chewing on one side cannot take
place as the upper and lower jaws are the same width (King
1996b).
Herbivores such as the iguana are hindgut fermenters and
are really only found in tropical areas where high ambient
temperatures facilitate fermentation. The small intestine is
short and the large intestine (cecum and colon) takes up
50% of the length. Protein and digestible nutrients are
absorbed in the stomach and small intestine while the indi-
gestible cellulose is broken down and absorbed as volatile
fatty acids in the cecum and colon. Most herbivores have a
large partitioned proximal colon which increases surface
area and slows the passage of ingesta, thus giving more time
for hindgut fermentation. The iguana has large transverse
folds in the proximal colon (Fig. 4.25), subdividing it into
five pockets which decrease in size distally, and can retain
food there for up to 3
1

2 days (King 1996b, 1996c; Troyer


1984).
Newly hatched iguanas have no microbial flora and in the
wild they populate their gut by eating adult feces. They
selectively eat more digestible proteins and have shorter
transit times in order to gain enough energy for rapid growth
(Troyer 1984).
Herbivorous species rely on high ambient temperatures
and microorganisms to aid fermentation of cellulose into
VFAs (King 1996b, 1996c). Total transit time is very slow
in comparison to other non-ruminant herbivores. Mammals,
from rabbits to elephants, take around 68 hours in com-
parison to up to 140 hours in the lizard. This is because
reptiles do not ferment food during night cooling and have
a much slower metabolism (Troyer 1984). It is also inversely
related to body temperature (King 1996c).
URINARY SYSTEM
The kidneys are lobed and lie retroperitoneally within the
pelvic canal in the dorsocaudal celom (Fig. 4.23). In some
species the kidneys are fused in the midline. A short ureter
drains the kidneys from the ventral side and opens via a
urinary papilla in the urodeum. In male lizards this duct is
an outgrowth of the vas deferens. Most lizards have a thin-
walled bladder which arises from the ventral urodeum and
extends forward under the coprodeum. Urine flows from
the urodeum into the coprodeum (Fig. 4.26). In species
without a bladder urine is stored and modified in the distal
colon before being excreted (Davis et al. 1976).
Salt glands
Herbivorous lizards consume a lot of potassium in their
diet and often have nasal salt glands to help them excrete
the excess salts. They also excrete potassium urate salts in
higher concentration in their urine (Dunson 1976).
Lizards
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Esophagus
Dorsal aorta
Stomach
Left atrium
Right atrium
Ventricle
Testes
Epididymus
Kidney
Hemipenis
Ureter
Cloaca
Urinary
bladder
Lung
Liver
Gall
bladder Pancreas
Colon
Duodenum
Spleen
Figure 4.23 Lateral, midsagittal view of
male chameleon.
Table 4.3 Examples of herbivorous lizards
Common name Scientific name
Green iguana Iguana iguana
Marine iguana Amblyrhynchus cristatus
Common chuckwalla Sauromalus ater
Solomon Island skink Corucia zebrata
Spiny tailed lizard (Dab) Uromastyx acanthinurus
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
Breeding season
In many lizards from temperate climates the gonads reach
maximum size on emergence from hibernation and are
smallest during the summer months. In tropical climates the
breeding season coincides with the start of the wet season,
so there is moisture for egg incubation and an abundant
food supply for hatchlings (DeNardo 1996).
Male
The testes are located cranial to the kidneys and attached to
the dorsal wall by a mesorchium. In some species of male lizard,
the kidney has a posterior sexual segment that becomes swollen
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Figure 4.24 Radiograph of Leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) with
colonic impaction due to substrate ingestion. There is loss of soft tissue
opacity from the tail base (normally a site of fat storage in many geckos)
indicating emaciation.
Ileo-cecal valve Proximal colon
Rectum
Bladder
Bladder opening
Ureter opening
Kidney
Coprodeum
Urodeum
Ureter
Proctodeum
Figure 4.25 Diagram of iguana colon showing large transverse folds in
the proximal colon subdividing it into five pockets. Food can be retained
there for up to 3
1

2 days.
Figure 4.26 Distal colon and cloaca of lizard with bladder. Urine
empties from the ureter into the urodeum and is then refluxed into the
bladder.
Nephromegaly can result in obstruction of the colon as it
passes between the kidneys. This is quite common in aged
green iguanas (Barten 1996).
CLINICAL NOTE
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cloaca. Sperm passes from the vas deferens into the male
urodeum and is then carried in a groove down the hemipene
to be deposited into the female cloaca (Bellairs 1969g).
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Sexual dimorphism Many adult species are sexually
dimorphic with males being more brightly colored and
often possessing crests, throat fans, etc. The male iguana
has taller dorsal spines and larger dewlaps; male chameleons
have elaborate horns, crests, and plates on their head.
Femoral or pre-cloacal pores are also more prominent
in the males (DeNardo 1996) (Fig. 4.27).
Sexual probes These can be used but are not as accurate
as in snakes.
Eversion of the hemipenes This can be done by injecting
saline into the cloaca in species like monitors, tegus, and
large skinks, which are difficult to sex (DeNardo 1996).
Endoscopy This can be used to examine the gonads.
Radiography The hemipenes of some male monitor
lizards can calcify and be seen on radiographs.
Ultrasonagraphy This can be used to examine the
hemipenes or ovaries/follicles.
SEXUAL DETERMINATION
Figure 4.27 View of medial hindlimbs of Green iguana (Iguana
iguana) showing prominent femoral pores in the male.
The adrenal glands are suspended in the mesovarium and
mesorchium so must be carefully avoided during neutering.
The right testis is intimately associated with the vena cava so
ligation is best achieved with surgical hemoclips.
CLINICAL NOTE
Testis
Testicular arteries
Vas deferens
Rectal artery
Liver
Vena cava
Aorta
Renal veins
Afferent
renal veins
Adrenals
Kidney
Renal arteries
Figure 4.28 Location of testes and kidneys in the male lizard.
during the breeding season and contributes to seminal fluid.
The right testis lies cranial to the left and is intimately con-
nected with the vena cava by short blood vessels of
12 mm. The left testis has its own testicular blood vessels
which lie close to the left adrenal gland (Bennett & Mader
1996) (Fig. 4.28).
The male has paired hemipenes, which are stored in the
tail base and can be visualized externally by bulges at the
ventral proximal tail. Only one hemipene is used during
copulation. The organ is erected by vascular engorgement
and muscular action and everted to protrude through the
The hemipene is solely an organ of reproduction; hence,
amputation of prolapsed hemipenes is possible if they are non
viable and cannot be replaced internally (Fig. 2.12).
CLINICAL NOTE
Female
The female has paired ovaries and oviducts, which lie at the
same level cranial to the kidneys (Fig. 4.29). The ovary consists
of a cluster of oocytes lines by a thin mesovarium. The oviduct
is pleated and has a wide infundibulum. As with the testes,
the right ovary lies close to the vena cava and is attached to
it by tiny blood vessels. The left ovarian blood supply lies
close to the left adrenal gland (Bennett & Mader 1996).
When ovulation does not occur the mature follicle remains
causing preovulatory retention or follicular stasis.
Postovulatory retention is when the ova lies within the
oviduct and the lizard is egg bound (Barten 1996).
CLINICAL NOTE
Oviparity
In oviparous species the eggs are retained within the mother
until birth. This is the more usual state for lizards and is
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
seen in Gekkonidae and Iguanidae. The normal clutch size
is from 3 to 15. Eggs are covered by a leathery shell and can
appear a bit shrunken when laid (Bellairs 1969g; DeNardo
1996; Palmer et al. 1997; Pough 1998b; Thompson 1997).
Viviparity
About one fifth of lizards are viviparous. The fetus is retained
within the oviduct where there is a primitive placental type
of circulation. The common European lizard (Lacerta fragilis)
is viviparous (Bellairs 1969g; DeNardo 1996; Palmer et al.
1997; Thompson 1997).
skin in the parietal foramen, and consists of a degenerate
eye containing a lens and retina. Although it does not form
images it connects with the pineal gland and may play a role
in thermoregulation, reproduction, and basking time (Evans
1986; Firth & Turner 1982).
Hearing
There is no external ear apart from a fold of skin in some
species (Fig. 4.30) and the tympanic membrane is usually
visible in a shallow depression on the side of the head (Murray
1996). In some species it is covered with a thin transparent
membrane, the outer layer of which is shed during ecdysis.
Airborne vibrations are picked up by these membranes and
transmitted via the columella to the inner ear. Hearing is better
than in snakes and chelonians but sensitive to only a narrow
range of low-frequency sounds. Geckos have the best hearing
of all lizards, which may fit in with the fact that they are
also the most vocal. Some burrowing lizards have no external
or middle ear but, like snakes, transmit sound by bone
conduction (Baird 1970; Bellairs 1969f; Murray 1996).
Some gecko species (Phelsuma spp.) store calcium in
endolymphatic sacs which can appear as white swellings on
either side of the neck. This calcium can be mobilized for
egg laying.
Sight
The majority of lizards are insectivorous so need keen
eyesight to catch prey. Lizards have good color vision but
only a narrow binocular field, so this is why they typically
cock their head to one side to get the best monocular vision.
Chameleons have the best vision of all, having excellent
binocular and monocular vision (Bellairs 1969f).
A thin interorbital septum separates the large orbits. As
in chelonians the sclera is supported by a ring of small bones
called ossicles. This allows for attachment of ciliary muscles
and keeps the shape of the globe (Underwood 1970).
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A few species of lizards are parthenogenic. These lay unfertilized
eggs that produce only female young, genetically identical to
the parent. This virgin birth can occur in some Asian lacertids
(Lacerta spp.) and North American whiptails (Aspidoscelis,
prev. Cnemidophorus) (Evans 1986).
GENERAL INTEREST
Figure 4.30 Bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) showing lack of external
ear.
SENSES
Parietal eye
The parietal eye (sometimes incorrectly called the pineal
eye because the nerve connecting the parietal gland to the
brain enters at the base of the pineal gland) is well developed
in some species like the Green iguana (Iguana iguana). It
is located on the dorsal midline of the head, beneath the
Rectal artery
Liver
Vena cava
Aorta
Renal veins
Afferent
renal veins
Adrenal
Ovarian arteries
Renal arteries
Ovary
From fat pads
From iliac and
pelvic veins
Caudal vein
Oviduct
Figure 4.29 Location of ovaries and kidneys in the female lizard.
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External adnexa
Eyelids are present, except in some gecko species. [The
very popular Leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularis) does
have movable eyelids.] As in birds, the eyelids are unequal
in size. The upper lid has little mobility so it is the lower lid
which moves upward to cover the majority of the surface
of the eye. In some species this can be transparent so some
vision is possible even when the eye is closed. A nictitating
membrane is present with a Harderian gland opening medi-
ally. Two lacrimal canaliculi are present at the rostromedial
margins of the lower lid (Bellairs 1969f; Underwood
1970).
The pupil is usually round and relatively immobile in diurnal
species but slit-like in nocturnal species. Many geckos have
a serrate pupillary opening that results in a series of small
holes when the pupil is completely closed. The retina of
diurnal lizards has only cones, whilst nocturnal geckos have
more rods. The highly vascular conus papillaris (similar to
the pecten of birds) originates from the head of the optic
nerve (Williams 1996). A fovea centralis, a depression in
the retina, gives acute vision and is often present in diurnal
species (Barten 1996).
Olfaction
The Jacobsons organ located in the roof of the mouth is
highly sensitive and innervated by a branch of the olfactory
nerve. The tongue is used as an organ of both taste and
smell (Parsons 1970).
provides the water-conserving properties. In some species
like skinks (Scincidae spp.) the scales are attached to
underlying dermal bony plates called osteoderms, which
give added protection and support and which are iden-
tifiable on radiographs (Bellairs 1969e; Lillywhite &
Maderson 1982).
Scales can be modified into crests, sharp spines, dewlaps
and shields for sexual display or territorial conflict. In
between the scales, the skin is thin and folded to allow for
expansion (hinges or scale pockets). The dermis contains
the chromatophores, which provide the elaborate range
of skin coloration, most particularly notable in the
chameleon.
Ecdysis
At ecdysis, scales are shed piecemeal and many lizards will
rub against hard objects to shed the molting layer. Many
show altered behavior like hiding away, cessation of eating,
and fading of color (Fig. 4.31). Many lizards also use a swell
mechanism to help the dead skin slough off. This is when
venous return to the heart is restricted by muscles
constricting the internal jugular vein. This causes the head
to bulge, particularly around the eyes which have large
venous sinuses. Other lizards are also capable of inflating
their bodies with air (Bellairs 1969e; Evans 1986; Perry &
Duncker 1978; White 1976).
Skin glands
The skin has few glands but many lizards like the Green
iguana have femoral pores in a single row on the ventral aspect
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Some lizards like the Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) and the
oscellated skinks (Ablepharus spp.) have fused eyelids that
form a spectacle, as in snakes (Bellairs 1969f; Williams 1996).
In these species the lacrimal glands secrete into the
subspectacular space, which is then drained by the
nasolacrimal duct. Infections here can lead to subspectacular
abscesses where the fluid cannot drain away.
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POI NTS
Large ventral abdominal vein
Acrodont or pleurodont teeth
Herbivorous species have large colon and slower gut
transit times
Good hearing and vision
These osteoderms can appear like radiopaque densities on
radiographs and should not be confused with lung metastases.
CLINICAL NOTE
INTEGUMENT
A mainly terrestrial animal like the lizard has scales to
protect itself from desiccation. These scales are formed by
the folding of the epidermis and contain keratin, which Figure 4.31 Leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) about to shed.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
of the thigh. These are not true glands but are tubular skin
invaginations that produce a waxy secretion. They are larger
and more developed in the male and can be helpful in sexual
determination. Many gecko species also have precloacal pores,
which lie in a v-shaped row anterior to the cloaca and are
more pronounced in males.
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Perry, S. F., & Duncker, H. R. (1978) Lung architecture, volume and
static mechanics in five species of lizards. Respiratory Physiology
34, 6181.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al. (1998a) Herpetology.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Herpetology as a field
of study; pp. 120.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al (1998b) Herpetology.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Classification and diversity
of extant reptiles; pp. 75133.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al. (1998c) Herpetology.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Energetics and performance;
pp. 173204.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al, (1998d) Herpetology.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Body support and
locomotion; pp. 235265.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al. (1998e) Herpetology.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Feeding; pp. 267305.
Pough, F. H., Janis, C. M., & Heiser, J. B. (2002) Vertebrate life,
6th edn. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. The lepidosaurs:
Tuatara, lizards and snakes; pp. 294341.
Redrobe, S., MacDonald, J. (1999) Sample collection and clinical
pathology of reptiles: Clinical pathology and sample collection.
In D. R. Reavill (ed.), The Veterinary Clinics of North America:
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Exotic animal practice. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: WB Saunders.
pp. 709730.
Thompson, M. B. (1997) Egg physiology and biology. In L.
Ackermann (ed.), The biology, husbandry and healthcare of
reptiles. Vol. 1, The biology of reptiles. N.J: TFH Publications,
pp. 88121.
Troyer, K. (1984) Structure and function of the digestive tract
of a herbivorous lizard Iguana iguana. Physiological Zoology 57(1),
18.
Uetz, P. (2000) How many reptile species? Herpetology Review 31,
1315.
Underwood, G. (1970) The eye. In C. Gans (ed.), Biology of the
Reptilia. Vol. 2, Morphology B. London: Academic Press. pp. 193.
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Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 5, Physiology A. London: Academic
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INTRODUCTION
Although snakes today invoke fear and phobias in many
people they were highly revered in the ancient world. The
fact they could disappear for the winter and emerge fresh
and renewed in the spring meant they were seen to be
immortal and worshipped as a symbol of healing and renewal.
The Australian aborigines worshipped the Rainbow serpent
and saw her as a symbol of water and life. Alexander the
Great claimed he was conceived by Zeus in the guise of a
snake and used them as a symbol of his power. Aesculapius,
the Greco-Roman god of healing was portrayed as a man
carrying a wooden staff entwined by a snake, and this emblem
is still the symbol of modern medicine today. It was later,
with the advent of Christianity, that snakes became the
scapegoat for paganism; the snake became the evil serpent
luring Adam and Eve away from paradise and the forked
tongue became synonymous with deceit.
Snakes evolved from lizards, which have a short trunk (snout
to vent) and long tail. During the process of elongation, snakes
developed the converse of this and have a long trunk with
a short tail. They occur widely around the world, only being
absent from polar and high-altitude regions where permafrost
prevents them from hibernating. However, the majority are
found in equatorial tropical rainforest where the abundance
of food, high humidity and temperature provides the ideal
habitat. In temperate climates, like North America and Europe,
snakes hibernate during the cold months (Evans 1986).
Size
Snakes can vary greatly in size. At one extreme are the
giant species like the Green anaconda (Eunectes murinus),
which can grow to 10 m, and the equally long but less wide
in girth Reticulated python (Python reticulatus). At the
other are the smallest snakes, which are the secretive and
burrowing blind snakes (Typhlopidae), measuring only
1030 cm (Bellairs 1969h).
Longevity
Snakes like pythons and boas can live for as long as
2030 years, and colubrids live for about 20 years.
TAXONOMY
Many families of snakes include primitive blind, burrowing
species not commonly seen as pets. Others include only one
species. This book will refer to only four major families:
Boidae, Colubridae, Elapidae, and Viperidae. The Boidae
and Colubridae contain the species most commonly seen in
veterinary practice.
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Snakes
Table 5.1 Examples of common snake families
Family Common name Approx. no. of species Species examples
Viperidae Viper 227 Rattlesnake, Pit viper, Puff adder
Elapidae 290 Mamba, Cobra, Tigersnake,
Brownsnake, Taipan,
Sea snake
Colubridae Typical snakes 1700 Boomslang, Cornsnake,
Rat snake, Kingsnake,
Milksnake, Garter snake
Boidae 63 Boa constrictor, Anaconda,
Royal python
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
24 C and tropical snakes favor around 28 C. Heat stress
occurs at 35 C and death at 3844 C. When the tempera-
ture drops to 10 C the snake goes into torpor and will die
if it is reduced to below 4 C.
The tropical regions provide ideal temperatures for snakes
and this is why the greatest variety of diurnal and nocturnal
species are found there. In temperate climates snakes are
usually diurnal, basking in the morning sun to heat up and
hibernating in winter. Subtropical snakes spend the hottest
part of day under the substrate. In times of drought when food
and water is scarce the snake will estivate to conserve water.
Their length enables snakes to have regional differences
in body temperatures. Snakes have a very high ratio of surface
area to body mass when uncoiled and so lose heat rapidly.
When coiled this minimizes surface area to mass and this
enables heat to be conserved.
GENERAL EXTERNAL ANATOMY
The cross-section of snakes can vary from circular to trian-
gular to ovoid, depending on the habitat. The belly is always
slightly flattened to aid locomotion. The single ventral scales
are called gastropeges and the scales caudal to the vent
are simply called subcaudal scales. Arboreal snakes like
constrictors have quite a prehensile tail.
Most snakes use color to camouflage themselves or to give
warning signals. Snakes that live among foliage are often green
whereas desert species are often yellow to red to match the
sand. The venomous coral snakes (Micrurus species) have vivid
bands of color to warn prey. False coral snakes such as the
Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum) use the same mimicry
to keep prey away, even though they are not venomous.
GENERAL INTERNAL ANATOMY
The snake has evolved its body for crawling so has few
external features. Elongation has also resulted in asym-
metry of viscera with right-sided organs lying cranial to and
being larger than left (Fig. 5.1). To explain the location of
organs more easily it is best to divide the length of the
snake roughly into three regions. The cranial region has
the heart, trachea, esophagus, thyroid and proximal lung.
The middle region has the stomach, liver, lung, spleen, and
pancreas. The caudal region has the small and large intes-
tines, kidneys and gonads.
Cranial third
In all species of snake the heart lies cranioventral to the ter-
mination of the trachea, although it is mobile to allow for
the passage of large food items. The thyroid gland is just
cranial to the heart. The thymus gland (which does not
involute in adults) is thin and lies on the trachea proximal
to this. The rostral parathyroids lie near the angle of the
jaw while the caudal pair lies near the thymus, just rostral
to the heart (McCracken 1999) (Figs. 5.2 and 5.3).
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Boidae
These include the giant snakes, such as the anaconda and
reticulated python. There are two main groups the boas,
which are viviparous and come from North, South, and
Central America, and the oviparous pythons from Africa,
Asia, and Australia.
These are powerful constricting snakes, which are often
popular pets due to their docility. They are the most primi-
tive of snakes, having vestigial spurs, two carotid arteries,
and a coronoid bone (this part of the jawbone is absent in
the more advanced species). They also have two lungs,
some possess a cecum, and have shorter tails. Many have
specialized infrared pit receptors on the upper and lower
labial scales (Bellairs 1969d; Pough 1998a).
Colubridae
This family are the so-called typical snakes and comprises
70% of snake species (1700 species) (Pough 1998a). These
are the most widely distributed (although they are not
found in Australia) and are especially common in North
America. They range from arboreal to aquatic to terrestrial.
Some species, like the Boomslang (Dispholidus typus), are
rear fanged but most species are harmless. These more
advanced snakes have evolved to having only one functional
right lung and a single left carotid artery.
Elapidae
These snakes are closely related to the colubrids but are
probably more advanced. They have small heads and front
fangs and include some particularly venomous species, such
as the cobras and mambas. The group includes a lot of
Australian species which have filled niches not occupied by
vipers and colubrids. They are mostly oviparous. Like the
colubrids, they have only one functional right lung and a
single left carotid artery (Pough 1998a).
Viperidae
The vipers are the most advanced snakes in evolutionary
terms and are found everywhere except Australia because
they evolved after that landmass broke away. They tend to
be short and stocky, with broad heads and may be oviparous
or viviparous. The have only one carotid artery, one right
lung, and a short hinged maxilla that allows the front fangs
to be erected. The subfamily Crotalinae, which includes pit
vipers and rattlesnakes, have heat-sensitive receptors between
the eyes and nostrils. The rattlesnake has a rattle composed
of keratin left over after shedding (Pough 1998a).
THERMOREGULATION
The optimum temperature range for snakes is 1834 C.
Temperate snakes have a preferred body temperature of
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Snakes
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Figure 5.1 Internal anatomy of the snake (male) the celomic fat pads have been removed to show caudal viscera. Note the location of the gall
bladder some distance from the liver.
Colour code
Orange = gastrointestinal tract
Mid gray = respiratory tract
Color code
Orange = gastrointestinal tract
Mid gray = respiratory tract
Heart
Trachea
Thyroid gland
Esophagus
Left lung
Right lung
Liver
Stomach
Small intestine
Gall bladder
Spleen
Pancreas
Right testis
Left testis
Right adrenal
gland
Right kidney
Ureters
Left kidney
Left adrenal
gland
Large intestine
Vas deferens
Rectum
Right airsac
Cloaca
Anal scale
(divided)
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Middle third
The gall bladder lies near the pylorus of the stomach and is
located some distance from the posterior pole of the liver.
In some species the spleen and pancreas are fused into a
splenopancreas and lie adjacent to the gall bladder, forming
an organ triad. The right ovary lies either near to this triad
or just caudal to it (McCracken 1999) (Figs. 5.4 and 5.5).
Caudal third
The right and left gonads occur in sequence, followed by
the right and left kidneys. The pink adrenal glands can be
visualized medial to the respective gonads and lie in the
mesorchium/mesovarium. The intestines are linear and in
Boidae a cecum is visible at the junction of the small
intestine and colon. Celomic fat bodies lie ventral to all the
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Trachea
Precardial fat pad
and thyroid gland
Heart
Esophagus
Proximal
lung
Figure 5.2 Internal anatomy of cranial third
showing location of trachea, thyroid, heart,
proximal lung (right) and esophagus.
Figure 5.4 Internal anatomy of middle third
of the snake showing liver, lung, stomach,
spleen, and pancreas.
Figure 5.3 Lateral radiograph of cranial third of the snake.
Figure 5.5 Radiograph of middle third of the snake.
Esophagus
Liver Lung Stomach
Spleen, pancreas
and gall bladder
Small
intestine
Lung Airsac
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viscera, starting at the level of the gall bladder and extending
caudally to the level of the cloaca (McCracken 1999) (Figs.
5.6 and 5.7).
SKELETAL SYSTEM
Skull
The snake has the most kinetic skull of all, with extremely
flexible and mobile bones in all parts. It has no temporal
arch, interorbital septum or middle ear cavity. Instead, its
intricate design enables a reptile with a small mouth to eat
enough large prey to sustain its length. The skull is modi-
fied so that all the tooth-bearing bones of the skull are able
to move independently; the braincase is heavily ossified to
protect it from protesting prey (Liem et al. 2001a) (Fig. 5.8).
Snakes have no mandibular symphysis; instead, flexible
skin allows the jaw bones to move apart and forward or
backward (Figs. 5.9 and 5.10). The quadrate bone which
articulates with the lower jaw and palatomaxillary arch also
has a very loose articulation. This becomes rigid when under
tension but extremely flexible when relaxed (Fig. 5.10).
More advanced viperid snakes have elongate quadrate bones
slanting backwards and outwards giving them the notorious
triangular shaped head. Many also have an articulation
between the prefrontal and maxillary bones (Bellairs 1969b;
Pough 1998a; Pough et al. 2002) (Fig. 5.11).
Each half of the skull works separately and this inde-
pendence allows the snake to literally walk its jaw along
large prey (Fig. 5.12). The left half of the upper and lower
jaw can be moved and then clamped allowing the right side
to advance forwards. Snakes often yawn after a meal to
allow their jawbones to reposition themselves.
Vertebrae
There are often up to 400 vertebrae precloacally, each with
its own pair of ribs and large axial skeletal muscles. Each
vertebra has five separate articulations with its fellow ver-
tebrae and this, combined with the large number of vertebrae,
results in a very flexible backbone (Hoffstetter & Gasc 1970).
The hypaxial and epaxial muscles extend along these verte-
brae by an interlocking system of muscle chains and tendons,
thus adding to the snakes flexibility. The intercostal and
hypaxial muscles not only help in locomotion but also in
the passage of prey for digestion and in respiration.
Snakes have no distinct cervical region but the first two
cervical vertebrae lack ribs. There is no sternum or costal
cartilages so each rib pair attaches by muscles to the inner
surface of the ventral scales. Post cloaca there are no distinct
ribs but vertebral processes fork ventrally and dorsally to
protect the lymph hearts (Figs. 5.13 and 5.16). The tail is
always shorter than the trunk (Hoffstetter & Gasc 1970).
Locomotion
Snake locomotion involves two kinetic types: undulating and
sidewinding (Fig. 5.14). They often combine several methods
of undulation according to the local terrain (Bellairs 1969a).
Snakes
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Figure 5.6 Internal anatomy of caudal
third showing colon.
Colon Vent Cloaca Celomic fat pads Small
intestine
Terminal
airsac
Figure 5.7 Radiograph of caudal third of the snake. Other viscera are not visible radiographically as they merge with the large celomic fat pads in this
area. Note the absence of ribs post cloaca.
The cobra has long curved ribs on its cervical vertebrae,
which can be rotated outwards causing a fold of loose skin
to spread. This hood is then inflated with air from the lungs.
GENERAL INTEREST
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Lateral undulation
This is when the snake wriggles laterally. When the body
comes in contact with an object or rough surface it thrusts
itself forward. As they need a minimum of three contact
points, snakes would have difficulty advancing on very smooth
surfaces like glass. Long, thin snakes like racers can move
faster because they can make more curves and more thrust.
During swimming snakes use this movement, pushing against
the resistance of the water (Pough et al. 2002).
Rectilinear
Rectilinear locomotion is where a snake moves forward in a
straight line on its ribs, causing a wave effect. This method
of motion is used by thick-bodied snakes like boas and
pythons and is less conspicuous than other forms. It is also
used for stalking prey. The ventral scales are loosely attached
and linked to the ribs by segmental muscles. Contraction of
these muscles helps to draw the snake forward (Pough et
al. 2002).
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Braincase
Squamosal
bone
Prefrontal
Maxilla
Pterygoid
bone
Quadrate
bone
Premaxilla
Mandible
Columella
Figure 5.10 Skull of simple snake.
Figure 5.8 Lateral radiograph of skull of common boa (Boa constrictor)
showing flexible serpentine skull. Note heavily ossified braincase,
backwardly pointing teeth and mobile quadrate bone.
Figure 5.9 Dorsoventral radiographs of above demonstrating lack of
mandibular symphysis.
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Concertina
The concertina method is used mainly by burrowing snakes.
This is where the snake bunches a few s-shaped loops
against the body wall and then straightens out at the front
to move forward (Pough et al. 2002).
Sidewinding
Sidewinding is a specialized locomotion devised by snakes
such as rattlesnakes and vipers that live in deserts. It
involves throwing the head forward while at the same time
throwing a loop of body forward, leaving a characteristic J-
shape behind. The body actually moves at right angles to
the direction the snake is travelling and is the fastest
method of maneuvering through loose sand (Pough et al.
2002).
Spurs
With elongation, the snake has lost its pectoral girdle to
facilitate the swallowing of large prey. Some of the more
primitive Boidae have retained pelvic vestiges, spurs, and
these can be seen on either side of the vent (Figs. 5.15 and
5.16). These short bones are covered in keratin and articu-
late with a longer bone lying within the rib cage. An attached
muscle serves to flex and extend the spurs, which are used
during courtship and mating (Evans 1986).
CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
Snakes have a 3-chambered heart with a complete atrial
separation and just one ventricle. It is long and slender and
lies just cranioventral to the bifurcation of the trachea,
Snakes
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Prefrontal
Transpalatine
bone Quadrate bone
Pterygoid bone
Maxilla
Mandible
Pterygoid
bone
(a) (b)
Figure 5.11 Advanced snake skull as seen
in vipers demonstrating the shortened maxilla.
The prefrontal bone can be raised like a hinge
to rotate the front fangs for striking.
Figure 5.12(a&b) Burmese python (Python molurus) eating a rat. The snakes skull is modified to allow an animal with a small head to consume prey
large enough to sustain their length. The tooth-bearing bones of the skull are able to move independently of each other, allowing the snake to walk
its jaw over large prey.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
about a third of the way down the body. The heart is fairly
mobile as there is no diaphragm to hold it in place, and this
allows prey items to pass by it.
Paired right and left aorta fuse caudal to the heart to
form the dorsal aorta. A large ventral abdominal vein lies along
the inner surface of the midline and so this must be avoided
when making a celiotomy incision. A renal portal system is
present, as in all reptiles.
The carotid arteries are asymmetrically placed. The
more advanced snakes like the colubrids and vipers have
only the left carotid artery, the right one being rudimentary.
As is the case with other reptiles, lymphatic vessels are
prominent. Dilations of the lymph vessels (lymph hearts)
are found on each side of the tail base where they are
protected by modified, forked caudal vertebrae.
Venepuncture sites
(See Redrobe & MacDonald 1999.)
Ventral coccygeal vein Insert the needle caudally to
avoid the hemipenes in males.
Cardiac puncture This is usually recommended in
species over 300 g in weight. The needle is inserted
into the ventricular apex and the syringe allowed to fill
passively according to the cardiac cycle. There is little
danger of leakage post sampling due to the slow heart
rate and low blood pressure (Murray 2000).
Dorsal palatine vein This can be easily visualized in
medium to large sized snakes. It lies on the dorsal oral
cavity, medial to the palatine row of teeth. Hematoma
formation is common post sampling and saliva may
contaminate blood samples (Murray 2000).
Jugular cutdown This is possible on collapsed or
anesthetized animals.
RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Upper respiratory tract
The glottis lies forward and is easily visualized making intu-
bation for anesthesia very easy. It is very mobile and can be
extended laterally while feeding to allow breathing while
ingesting prey (Fig. 5.17). It lies against the choana dorsally
when the mouth is closed. The trachea has incomplete car-
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KEY POINTS
Anatomical adaptations for locomotion:
Up to 400 flexible vertebrae
Ribs that extend to midline from atlas to vent
Large interconnecting muscle bundles
Ventral gastropeges linked by pleated membranes
Elastic dermis and loose skin
Figure 5.13 Radiograph of vertebrae and ribs which extend the length of the body to the vent. Post cloacally the vertebral processes are forked to
protect the lymph hearts. Note the precardial fat pad.
Avoid the ventral approach when operating so as to avoid the
ventral abdominal vein. When doing a celiotomy the incision
is made between the second and third dorsal row of lateral
scales. This also preserves the ventral scales for locomotion
and keeps the wound from getting soiled by the substrate
(Funk 1996).
CLINICAL NOTE
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tilaginous rings, with rigid cartilage ventrally and the dorsal
fourth being membranous (Funk 1996). Like all reptiles,
snakes have a poorly developed mucociliary apparatus and
rely on body positioning to help clear mucus and inflamma-
tory exudates. They have no vocal cords but hiss by forcing
air through the glottis the pitch will depend on the width
of the aperture and the loudest noise is made during expiration
(Bellairs 1969d; Liem et al. 2001b).
Snakes
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(a) Lateral undulation when the body comes in contact with an object or
rough surface, it thrusts itself forward.
Locomotion in snakes.
(b) Concertina the back half anchors while the front half moves forward
and vice versa.
(c) Rectilinear this is used by large snakes, like boas and pythons, which
use the ventral skin and attached muscle to pull themselves forward in a
straight line similar to a caterpillar.
(d) Sidewinding this is used by desert species on loose sand and involves
moving laterally by throwing the body in loops sideways.
Figure 5.14 Locomotion in snakes.
(a) Lateral undulation when the body comes in contact with an object or rough surface it thrusts itself forward
(b) Concertina the back half anchors while the front half moves forward and vice versa
(c) Rectilinear This is used by large snakes, like boas and pythons, which use the ventral skin and attached muscle to pull themselves forward in a
straight line similar to a caterpillar
(d) Sidewinding this is used by desert species on loose sand and involves moving laterally by throwing the body in loops sideways
Snakes have no effective cough reflex so it is possible for
experienced handlers to intubate a conscious animal and
induce anesthesia by isofluorane. However, this inability to
cough up exudates make the snake very susceptible to
pneumonia.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Lower respiratory tract
In keeping with body elongation many snakes have evolved
one functional lung. The viperids have only one lung; the
colubrids have one functional lung (the left lung is vestigial)
and the more primitive boids have two saccular lungs, although
the right lung is slightly longer (Evans 1986; McCracken
1999). The right lung extends from the heart to just cranial
to the right kidney (Figs. 5.1 and 5.4).
Structurally, the cranial lung is simple and unicameral
(single chambered), with a good blood supply, and performs
the air exchange. Like in the Scincidae lizards, the caudal
third is non-respiratory and functions like an airsac (Perry
1989). Aquatic snakes have an airsac that extends caudally
to the cloaca and acts as a buoyancy aid (Bellairs 1969d).
In some snakes the vascular portion of the lungs extends
into the dorsal trachea, creating a saccular extension to the
tracheal rings that is capable of gaseous exchange (McCracken
1999).
The respiratory cycle
Respiration is controlled by the dorsal and ventrolateral
sheet of intercostal muscles, which extend along almost the
entire length of the trunk. Some snakes also use the avas-
cular airsac like bellows in order to ventilate the lungs when
the passage of food compresses them. In snakes inspiration
is both passive and active. Relaxation of the expiratory muscles
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1st caudal vertebrae
Forked vertebral
processes
Vestigial
spur
Cloaca
Figure 5.15 Albino male Burmese python (Python molorus) showing
vestigial spurs.
Figure 5.16 Vestigial pelvic girdle and spurs in a python.
Figure 5.17 Open mouth of Rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta) showing open
glottis. In snakes the trachea is very mobile and can be extended out of the
mouth to allow breathing while swallowing large prey. (Photo by Janet Saad)
Snakes have a very fragile lung so perform intermittent
positive-pressure ventilation (IPPV) with care, so as to avoid
lung rupture.
CLINICAL NOTE
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starts the passive part of inspiration. The intercostal muscles
then contract, decreasing intrapulmonary pressure and result-
ing in active inspiration. Passive expiration then occurs as
these muscles relax and the lung recoils (Wood & Lenfant
1976).
DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
All snakes are carnivorous so the gastrointestinal tract is a
relatively simple, linear duct, which extends from the oral
cavity to the cloaca (Fig. 5.1).
Dentition
Snakes swallow their prey whole without mastication so the
teeth function solely in food prehension. Consequently, they
are long, thin and backwardly curved to prevent the escape
of prey. All snakes have pleurodont teeth that are attached
to the medial jawbone and are continually being replaced
by new teeth lying in reserve in the gums (Fig. 5.18). Each
tooth lasts only a few months before being shed and swal-
lowed with the prey. In venomous species some maxillary
teeth are modified into fangs (Edmund 1970).
The number of teeth varies between species but most
snakes seen in veterinary practice have six rows of teeth in
total: one row on each lower jaw and two rows on each maxil-
lary and palatine or pterygoid bones of the upper jaw (Edmund
1970) (Figs. 5.19 and 5.20). Copious amounts of saliva are
produced from the palatine, lingual, sublingual and labial
salivary glands during swallowing, which moistens and lubri-
cates the prey.
Venom glands
These are modified labial salivary glands, that produce venom
that immobilize the prey preventing damage to the delicate
skull. The venom contains collagenases, phospholipases,
proteases and injection into the prey is under voluntary
control (Bellairs 1969c).
Rear-fanged (opisthoglyphous) snakes
In about one third of the colubrids the caudal labial gland
becomes modified into a distinct capsular gland lying behind
the eye and just above the lips. This gland is known as
Duvernoys gland and its function is to secrete venom to
immobilize prey. Venom passes from this gland into a modi-
fied tooth at the caudal maxilla. These rear fangs are grooved
and able to inject venom into prey. Like all teeth the fangs
Figure 5.19 Ventral view of maxillary arcade. Most species seen in
practice have four rows of upper teeth. (Photo by Janet Saad)
Figure 5.20 Ventral view of maxilla showing maxillary and palatine/
pterygoid dental arcades.
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Figure 5.18 All snakes have
pleurodont teeth. These are thin
and backwardly pointing to prevent
escape of prey.
Maxilla Palatine
bone
Pterygoid
bone
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
are shed regularly to be replaced by the reserve fangs (Bellairs
1969c; Evans 1986; Pough 1998a, 1998b).
In general the back-fanged snakes are not so venomous,
the exception being the Boomslang (Dispholidus typus),
which can cause fatalities (Fig. 5.21). The main aim of the
venom is actually to incapacitate the prey so that it cannot
damage the mouth while being eaten.
Front-fanged snakes
In these snakes the venom gland is large, separate from the
labial glands, and lies behind the eye. A single long duct
runs rostrally into fangs situated at the rostral maxilla.
Some cobras can actually spit venom over 2 m away. In
Elapidae the fangs remain erect and cannot fold
(proteroglyphous) (Pough et al. 2002).
Viperidae have even more highly modified fangs (soleno-
glyphous). They are so long that when the mouth is closed
the fangs lie folded backwards in a sheath along the roof of
the mouth in an area of no teeth (diastema). The shortened
maxilla is hinged and mobile. When the mouth opens the
pterygoid muscles contract, pulling up the palatopterygoid
so that the fangs are raised for striking (Pough et al. 2002)
(Fig. 5.22).
Tongue
The tongue is long, slender and forked and lies in a sheath
beneath the glottis and rostral trachea (Fig. 5.23). It is very
mobile and can be protruded through the lingual notch or
fossa without the snake opening its mouth. It functions in
olfaction, taste and touch (Fig. 5.24).
Gastrointestinal tract
The esophagus is relatively thin walled and amuscular as the
axial musculature plays a major role in the transportation of
Figure 5.24 The tongue is very mobile and can be protruded through
the lingual fossa without the snake opening its mouth.
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Maxilla
Fang
Duvernoy's gland
Maxilla
Squamosal
Venom gland
with long duct
Quadrate
Palatoquadrate
Figure 5.21 Rear fangs Boomslang (Dispholidus typus) showing
location of Duvernoys gland and position of rear-grooved fangs.
Figure 5.22 Front fangs Rattlesnake (Crotalus sp.) showing location of
venom gland with duct opening into grooved front fangs. The fangs are
folded but the hinged maxilla can be raised to erect fangs for striking.
Lingual
fossa
Figure 5.23 Forked tongue of snake. (Photo by Janet Saad)
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food to the stomach. It is highly distensible to allow for prey,
which may remain alive there for many hours. Often the only
distinguishing feature between the stomach and esophagus
is that the stomach has a more glandular mucosa. The stom-
ach is fusiform and there is no well-defined cardiac sphincter,
causing easy regurgitation of food (Figs. 5.1 and 5.4).
The esophagus also plays a role in food storage because the
stomach is relatively small and may not be able to accom-
modate the entire prey (particularly with cannibalistic species
which often consume prey as long as themselves). Digestion
begins as soon as even part of the prey reaches the stomach
and is a rapid process. Absorption however is very slow. As
the whole prey is utilized, including the skeleton, it may
take up to 5 days for a large snake to digest a rat. Only the
keratinous structures like fur are finally excreted as an
undigested pad called the felt (Fig. 5.25).
The liver is elongated and may be divided into two to three
separate lobes. As snakes consume large meals infrequently
a gall bladder is essential to help digest fat. The pancreas is
ovoid and found caudal to the gall bladder on the mesen-
teric border of the duodenum (Fig. 5.1). In some species
the spleen is adherent to the pancreas, creating the spleno-
pancreas. The small intestine is fairly straight and a cecum
is present is some Boidae species.
The large intestine is separated from the cloaca by a dis-
tinct fold. Paired fat bodies, which are often vascularized,
lie in the caudal celomic cavity. In snakes the cloaca is linear
rather than round and is divided into three sections by
mucosal folds. Cloacal scent glands are present in some
snakes and serve as a warning mechanism by producing foul
smelling secretions (Evans 1986).
URINARY SYSTEM
The paired kidneys are located in the dorsocaudal abdomen
with the right kidney being more cranial than the left
(Figs. 5.1 and 5.26). They are brown in color, elongated,
have about 2530 lobes, and stretch for 10 to 15 percent
of the total snout-to-vent length (Bellairs 1969d). The
ureters are elongated, with the right longer than the left,
and enter the cloaca dorsally where they are distinct from
the vas deferens or oviduct. In some species they may dilate
slightly at distal end to form a small urinary reservoir.
There is no bladder (Fox 1977).
Male snakes have a sexual segment to the kidney. This
provides a secretion rich in protein and lipids, which is used
as a copulatory plug. This plug blocks the terminal oviduct
for 24 days after copulation.
REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
Sexual maturity
Smaller species can reach sexual maturity in one year but
larger, more long-lived species, may not be sexually mature
until 5 years of age.
Figure 5.25 Bull snake with esophageal and gastric impaction after the
owner changed the diet from mice to rats. The combination of lack of
humidity and increased size and fur length of prey contributed to a fatal
impaction.
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In egg-eating snakes (Dasypeltis spp.) the cranial esophagus
is closely attached to the first 30 or so presacral vertebrae.
These vertebrae have modified ventral spines against which
the shell is crushed by longitudinal bands of muscle. The egg
contents are expelled into the stomach while the broken shell
is regurgitated up the esophagus.
GENERAL INTEREST
When stomach-tubing snakes, infuse slowly and hold them
vertically for 30 seconds post feeding to prevent regurgitation
through the weak cardiac sphincter.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Breeding season
In the wild, the breeding season is in spring in temperate
and subtropical climes, after hibernation. In tropical regions
the start of the wet season provides an ideal climate for egg
incubation.
Male
The testes are intra-abdominal and situated between the
pancreas and the kidneys. Male snakes have two hemipenes,
which are paired, saclike caudal extensions of the cloaca
and lie within the ventral tail base (Fig. 2.11). Each hemi-
penis has a retractor muscle that extends from the tail
vertebrae to the tip and sides of the hemipene and large
anal glands lie above the hemipenes. The hemipene, retrac-
tor muscle, and anal gland are all surrounded by the larger
propulsor muscle. When the hemipene becomes engorged
with blood the muscle contracts to evert it out like a finger
from a glove. After engorgement has subsided the retractor
muscle then works to retract and invert the hemipene
(Bellairs 1969g; Evans 1986; Funk 1996) (Fig. 2.11).
Female
The ovaries are paired and located asymmetrically near the
pancreas. The right ovary is usually larger and more cranial
than the left. The left may be reduced or undeveloped. Snakes
can be oviparous or viviparous (Palmer et al. 1997; Pough
1998a).
Maternal behavior
Some female Indian pythons (e.g., Python molorus) can
generate a 7 C increase in heat by spasmodic contraction
of the muscles as they coil around their eggs. This method
is unique among reptiles and is facilitated by their large
body size and the way they prevent heat loss by coiling
tightly around the egg mass. Unlike mammalian shivering
the muscles contractions are coordinated. At the same
temperature the metabolic rate will be 20 times that of
a non-brooding snake (Bartholomew 1982; Bennett &
Dawson 1976).
Copulation
The male initiates courtship by moving his body over the
female and rubbing his tail against her. If the female is recep-
tive she will dilate her cloaca and raise her tail. Copulation
can last from 2 to 20 hours. During copulation one hemipene
is evaginated and inserted into the cloaca of the female.
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Testes
Vas deferens
Dorsal aorta
Kidney
Distal colon
Ureter
Figure 5.26 Urogenital system of male snake (celomic fat bodies have
been removed).
(a)
(b)
Figure 5.27 The sex of a snake can be identified by gentle probing distal
to the cloaca.
(a) A depth of over six subcaudal scales may be reached if the snake is
male.
(b) A depth of less than two to three scales will indicate it is female.
Snakes can show some sexual dimorphism, such as difference
in size, but in general the signs are subtle. A number of
methods are therefore used to sex snakes:
Counting the number of subcaudal scales The males
have longer tails than females (Boidae).
Measuring the tail base The male tends to be broader
due to the presence of hemipenes.
Measuring the spurs Vestigial spurs are bigger in the
male (Boidae).
Probing In the male a probe can be inserted for about
610 subcaudal scales while in the female it is only 23
scales (Fig. 5.27).
Everting the hemipenes This can be done by gently
squeezing the tail base or injecting saline.
SEXUAL DETERMINATION
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The hemipene has spines and ridges that enable it to remain
for long periods in the cloaca. It is then withdrawn by the
action of the retractor muscle. During multiple matings the
male can use the right and left hemipene alternately.
Sperm storage
Some female snakes can store sperm in a cavity lined by
mucosa glands near the top of the oviduct where it is kept
until conditions are right. This can be stored for months or
even years and explains why a snake may suddenly appear
fertile in the absence of a male (Bellairs 1969g).
SENSES
Sight
Sight is quite poor in snakes as they may have evolved from
burrowing snakes. The snake eye is very different to that in
lizards and chelonians as it is small with a relatively large
cornea and has no scleral ossicles. The eyeball is spherical
and lined by a fibrous sclera. The eyes have no eyelids but
have fused to form a protective spectacle or brille over the
cornea (Fig. 5.28). The Harderian and lacrimal glands secrete
into the subspectacular space, which is then drained by the
nasolacrimal duct. Infections here can lead to bullous spec-
taculopathy and subspectacular abscesses where the fluid
cannot drain away. There is no nictitating membrane. Unlike
lizards, eye mobility beneath the spectacle is very limited
(Underwood 1970).
Most reptiles focus the eye by using muscles in the
ciliary body to change the lens curvature. However, snakes
have a reduced ciliary body, relying on movement of the iris
muscles instead, and as a consequence the lens is spherical
in shape and accommodation is poor. The pupil shape varies
with the mode of life and the habitat in which the snake
lives and may be round, elliptical, or even horizontal in
some arboreal species (Bellairs 1969f; Pough 1998a;
Underwood 1970).
Unlike lizards, snakes have both cones and rods in their
retina, although many diurnal forms have lost their rods.
Only a few snakes have a conus papillaris (similar to the
avian pecten) arising from the optic nerve papilla.
Hearing
Snakes have no external aural structures, no tympanic mem-
brane, and only a narrow tympanic cavity (Murray 1996).
The columella (stapes) is directly attached to the quadrate
bone and the inner ear appears to be well developed and
sensitive to ground vibrations. Contrary to popular belief,
snakes are not deaf but hearing sensitivity is only over a
limited low frequency in the range of 150600 Hz. Snakes
hear by literally having an ear to the ground. They pick
up sensitive vibrations via the quadrate bone (which acts
like an eardrum) and direct them to the inner ear and brain.
Snakes do not vocalize between themselves but hiss or rattle
as warning signals (Baird 1970; Bellairs 1969f).
Olfaction
This is the most developed of senses in snakes. Apart from
the usual olfactory epithelium in the nostrils, snakes possess
a highly developed Jacobsons organ (Fig. 2.14). This is a
pair of domed cavities or vomeronasal pits lined with sensi-
tive epithelium. The forked tongue is flicked out through a
groove in the mouth called the lingual notch or fossa where
it picks up scent particles from its surroundings. It then
inserts the fork in the vomeronasal pits and sends infor-
mation via the olfactory nerves to the brain (Bellairs 1969f;
Parsons 1970).
Touch and taste
The tongue is an organ of taste, touch and smell. It lies in
a sheath beneath the glottis and is protruded through the
lingual notch or fossa, enabling the snake to protrude its
tongue without opening its mouth. It is primarily a sensory
organ that brings odor from the environment to the
vomeronasal organ. Snakes in unfamiliar surroundings will
flick their tongue in and out as they explore.
Heat sensing: the sixth sense
Some snakes possess specialized infrared receptors, or pits,
which enable them to sense warm-blooded prey and strike
to catch them, even in total darkness. They are located
between the nostril and eye on the side of the head in pit
vipers. Boas and pythons have a series of smaller, less sensi-
tive slit-like openings on the upper and lower labial scales
but the pattern and number varies between species. The pits
are richly innervated via the ophthalmic, mandibular, and
maxillary branches of the trigeminal nerve. They are so sen-
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Figure 5.28 The snake has no eyelids. Instead they are fused to form
the transparent spectacle or brille which is shed with the other scales
during ecdysis. (Photo by Janet Saad)
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
sitive they can detect a temperature variation of as little as
0.003 C (Barrett 1970). These thermal cues combine with
visual cues to give the snake a general image of its surroundings
(Bellairs 1969f; Bennett 1996).
INTEGUMENT
The scales are formed by thickened parts of epidermis
between which are foldings of thin skin, and this allows for
great expansion when a snake consumes its prey (Fig. 5.29).
The gastropeges are larger and thicker to provide support.
The subcaudal scales covering the ventral tail are usually
paired. Snakes have few skin glands apart for the cloacal
glands.
Ecdysis
The snake grows by shedding their skin. Lymph fluid builds
up between the old and new epidermal layers, causing the
markings to become obscure and giving a blue appearance to
the skin and spectacle. Snakes cannot see clearly around this
time so may become more irritable than usual. Just before the
shed takes place the spectacle clears and the skin cir-
culation then becomes engorged, stretching the old skin
and causing it to split. The snakes become more restless
and start to crawl about and rub against rough surfaces. In
healthy snakes the skin is shed in one piece from snout to
tail and is generally 20% longer than the original (Fig. 5.30).
It is colorless because the pigment cells are in the dermal
layer.
Once ecdysis is completed the old inner layer becomes
the new outer layer and gives the snake a wonderful luster
and sheen. After shedding the snake may defecate and be
very thirsty. Failure to eat may occur if the spectacles fail
to shed, thus inhibiting vision (Fig. 5.31).
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Reptile skin is very inelastic so incising between the scales will
improve flexibility.
CLINICAL NOTE
Failure to shed can be caused by lack of humidity in the
vivarium. Increasing the humidity and providing rocks or logs
for the snake to rub against will prevent dysecdysis. Warm
water soaks and artificial tears can also literally help the
scales fall from the eyes so that the snake can then see to
eat.
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 5.29 Stretched snake skin showing the thin skin (alpha keratin)
hinged in between the thick scales (beta keratin). Figure 5.31 Poor shedding or dysecdysis in a corn snake.
Figure 5.30 Normal shedding.
The Rattlesnakes rattle is made from previous skin sheds
left behind on the tail. Each time it sheds it leaves behind a
horny segment on the tail. The sound is produced when the
rattlesnake vibrates its tail, causing the segments to bang
together (Bellairs 1969e; Evans 1986).
GENERAL INTEREST
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Frequency of shedding
The shedding frequency is affected by many factors, such as
growth, season (e.g., post hibernation in spring), oviposition
or parturition (810 days before these). Most snakes shed
about 2 to 4 times a year.
REFERENCES
Baird, I. L. (1970) The anatomy of the reptilian ear. In C.
Gans (ed.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 2, Morphology B. London:
Academic Press. pp. 193272.
Barrett, B. (1970) The pit organs of snakes. In C. Gans (ed.), Biology
of the reptilia. Vol. 2, Morphology B. London: Academic Press.
pp. 277295.
Bartholomew, G. A. (1982) Physiological control of body
temperature. In C. Gans & F. H. Pough (eds.), Biology of the
reptilia. Vol. 12, Physiology C. London: Academic Press.
pp. 167204.
Bellairs, A. (1969a) The life of reptiles. Vol. 1. London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson. Body form, skeleton and locomotion; pp. 44116.
Bellairs, A. (1969b) The life of reptiles. Vol. 1. London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson. Feeding and cranial mechanics; pp. 116184.
Bellairs, A. (1969c) The life of reptiles. Vol. 1. London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson. The venom apparatus and venom; pp. 184217.
Bellairs, A. (1969d) The life of reptiles. Vol. 1. London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson. The internal economy; pp. 217282.
Bellairs, A. (1969e) The life of reptiles. Vol. 2. London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson. The skin; pp. 283332.
Bellairs, A. (1969f) The life of reptiles. Vol. 2. London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson. Nervous system, psychology and sex organs;
pp. 332390.
Bellairs, A. (1969g) The life of reptiles. Vol. 2. London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson. Sex and reproduction; pp. 390433.
Bellairs, A. (1969h) The life of reptiles. Vol 2. London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson. Growth, age and regeneration; pp. 458488.
Bellairs, A. D., & Bryant, S.V. (1985) Autotomy and regeneration in
reptiles. In C. Gans & F. Billett (eds.), Biology of the Reptilia.
Vol. 15, Development B. New York: Wiley Interscience.
pp. 302350.
Bennett, A. F., & Dawson, W. R. (1976) Metabolism. In C. Gans &
W. R. Dawson (eds.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 5, Physiology A.
London: Academic Press. pp. 127211.
Bennett, R. A. (1996) Neurology. In D. R. Mader (ed.), Reptile
medicine and surgery. Philadelphia: WB Saunders. pp. 141148.
Edmund, A. G. (1970) Dentition. In C. Gans (ed.), Biology of the
reptilia. Vol. 1, Morphology A. London: Academic Press.
pp. 117194.
Evans, H. E. (1986) Reptiles Introduction and anatomy. In M. E.
Fowler (ed.), Zoo and wild animal medicine, 2nd edn.
Philadelphia: WB Saunders. pp. 108132.
Fox, H. (1977) The urogenital system of reptiles. In C. Gans & T.
Parsons (eds.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 6, Morphology E.
London: Academic Press. pp. 1122.
Funk, R. S. (1996) Biology snakes. In D. R. Mader (ed.), Reptile
medicine and surgery. Philadelphia: WB Saunders. pp. 3946.
Hoffstetter, R., & Gasc, J. P. (1970) Vertebrae and ribs of modern
reptiles. In C. Gans (ed.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 1,
Morphology A. London: Academic Press. pp. 201302.
Liem, K. F., Bemis, W. E., Walker, W.F., & Grande, L. (eds.) (2001a)
Functional anatomy of the vertebrates, 3rd edn. Fort Worth,
Tex.: Harcourt College. The digestive system: Oral cavity and
feeding mechanisms; pp. 532556.
Liem, K. F., Bemis, W. E., Walker, W. F., Grande, L. (eds.) (2001b)
Functional anatomy of the Vertebrates, 3rd edn. Fort Worth,
Tex.: Harcourt College. Respiration; pp. 591593.
McCracken, H. E. (1999) Organ location in snakes for diagnostic and
surgical evaluation. In M. E. Fowler & R. E. Miller (eds.), Zoo &
wild animal medicine: Current therapy, 4th edn. Philadelphia:
WB Saunders. pp. 243249.
Murray, M. J. (1996) Aural abscess. In D. R. Mader (ed.), Reptile
medicine and surgery. Philadelphia: WB Saunders. pp. 349352.
Murray, M. J. (2000) Reptilian blood sampling and artifact
considerations. In A. Fudge (ed.), Laboratory medicine avian
and exotic pets. Philadelphia: WB Saunders. pp. 185191.
Palmer, B., Uribe, M. C. et al. (1997) Reproductive anatomy and
physiology. In L. Ackermann (ed.), The biology, husbandry and
healthcare of reptiles. Vol. 1, The biology of reptiles. N.J.: TFH
Publications. pp. 5481.
Parsons, T. S. (1970) The nose and Jacobsons organs. In C.
Gans (ed.), Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 2, Morphology B. London:
Academic Press. pp. 99185.
Perry, S. F. (1989) Structure and function of the reptilian respiratory
system. In S. C. Wood (ed.), Comparative pulmonary physiology
current concepts. New York: Dekker. pp. 193237.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E., et al. (1998a) Herpetology.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Classification and diversity
of extant reptiles; pp. 75133.
Pough, F. H., Andrew, R. M., Cadle, J. E. et al. (1998b) Herpetology.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. Feeding; pp. 267305.
Pough, F. H., Janis, C. M., & Heiser, J. B. (2002b) Vertebrate life,
6th edn. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. The lepidosaurs:
Tuatara, lizards and snakes; pp. 294341.
Redrobe, S., & MacDonald, J. (1999) Sample collection and clinical
pathology of reptiles. In D. R. Reavill (ed.), Clinical pathology
and sample collection. The Veterinary Clinics of North America:
Exotic animal practice. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: WB Saunders.
pp. 709730.
Underwood, G. (1970) The eye. In C. Gans (ed.), Biology of the
Reptilia. Vol. 2, Morphology B. London: Academic Press.
pp. 193.
Wood, S. C., & Lenfant, C. J. (1976) Respiration: Mechanics, control
and gas exchange. In C. Gans & W. R. Dawson (eds.), Biology
of the reptilia. Vol. 5, Physiology A. London: Academic Press.
pp. 225267.
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Order Species Examples of species
approx no
Galliformes 214 Pheasants, domestic fowl, guinea
fowl, quail
Anseriformes 161 Swans, geese, ducks
Psittaciformes 358 Cockatoos, budgies, cockatiels
Columbiformes 310 Pigeons, doves
Passeriformes 5712 Songbirds, canaries, zebra finches
Falconiformes 285 Eagles, hawks, falcons
Strigiformes 178 Owls, nightjars
INTRODUCTION
The ability to fly has enabled birds to occupy a wide diver-
sity of habitats and develop many adaptations for feeding.
This has led to a large number of about 9700 extant species
belonging to the class Aves, divided into about 27 avian
orders. The largest order of all is the Passeriformes with
over 5712 species and the smallest is the Struthioniformes
with one species, the ostrich (King & McLelland 1984).
Table 6.1 shows the types of bird most commonly seen in a
veterinary clinic.
Birds evolved from reptiles and many similarities still remain.
Like reptiles, birds have scales on their beak, legs and feet,
a single occipital condyle, a single middle ear bone, the col-
umella and a jawbone made up of five bones fused together
(Quesenberry et al. 1997). They also have nucleated erythro-
cytes, a renal portal system and excrete uric acid (Maina
1996).
While reptiles and mammals show incredible diversity,
the constraints of flight means the basic bird design varies
very little from species to species. In fact there are fewer
morphological variations among all bird species than among,
for example, the mammalian order of Carnivora (with nearly
300 species) (Maina 1996). For this reason, this section will
cover the anatomy and physiology of birds in general. The
differences between the common orders can be seen in
Table 6.6 at the end of the chapter.
Size range
In size, birds range from the hummingbird (Trochilidae spp.),
which weighs 2 g, to the flightless ostrich (Struthio camelus)
which can weigh up 120 kg. The largest flying birds weigh
up to a maximum of 15 kg and range from the Mute swan
(Cygnus olor) to the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus)
(Kirkwood 1999).
Longevity
Birds tend to have longer life spans than mammals of similar
size (Kirkwood 1999). Pigeons and swans can live for up to
30 years, while psittacines like African grays (Psittacus eritha-
cus) and cockatoos (Cacatua spp.) commonly live for over
40 years. In the passerines the larger birds live longer than
smaller ones: the raven can live for well over 40 years whereas
canaries live from 8 to 16 years (Dorrestein 1997b).
METABOLISM
Birds are endothermic, meaning they have the ability to
maintain a relatively stable body temperature, irrespective
of the ambient temperature. At around 40 C (1.5 C)
birds body temperature is about three degrees higher than
mammals, so high metabolic rates are needed to maintain
this and enable them to fly. Birds expend 20 to 30 times
more energy than reptiles of similar body size so their
circulatory and respiratory systems have evolved to rapidly
provide energy and oxygen to cells (Dorrestein 1997a).
Passerine birds have the highest basal metabolic rate of
all vertebrates, which is 50 to 60% higher than other birds
of the same body size (Dorrestein 1997a; Maina 1996). During
the day birds expend a lot of energy as they are constantly
active with feeding, digestion, and flying. Many small birds
can also store up fat reserves for energy overnight. Other small
birds, like hummingbirds and swifts, can reduce metabolic
rate to save energy and become torpid when the temperature
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Avian anatomy and physiology
Table 6.1 Common avian orders seen in veterinary practice
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
drops. They warm out of this torpid state by shivering but
this method is limited to small birds because the rate of
rewarming is inversely related to the size of the bird and would
just take too long in larger species (Blem 2000; Dawson &
Whittow 2000; Dorrestein 1997a; Welty 1982b).
Birds have a rapid growth rate and reach full adult weight
and size much faster than mammals of equal weight (Kirkwood
1999). Altricial birds growth faster than precocial ones.
These rapid growth rates mean that there can be a three-
or fourfold increase in energy requirements during growth
(Blem 2000; Kirkwood 1999).
The breeding season is a very energy-expensive time for
birds so species build up fat deposits beforehand. Court-
ship, territorial aggression, mating, nest building, egg forma-
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Archaeopteryx ancestor of all birds
Five remains of this earliest known bird have been found in
late Jurassic limestone in Germany. The bird was bipedal,
about the size of a magpie and still retained reptilian features
like teeth, a long tail, claws on the wings, and simple ribs
without uncinate processes. Distinctive avian features were
the presence of feathers, paired clavicles, and a foot with
opposing digits like present day passerines (Figs. 6.1 and 6.2).
However Archaeopteryx must have been a poor flier as it had
no carina or triosseal canal. This meant it had poorly developed
pectoral muscles and must have relied on the deltoid muscle
to lift the wing (King & King 1979; Maina 1996).
GENERAL INTEREST
Figure 6.1 Archaeopteryx lithograph. These fossils were found in
late Jurassic marine deposits in southern Germany in the 1860s. They
were so well preserved in the limestone that details of feathers
(including the asymmetrical vane) could be identified, indicating their
avian lineage.
Figure 6.2 Archaeopteryx.
Birds carry little excess fat so when cachexic their high metabolic
rate means they will rapidly catabolize muscle. A small bird
of prey can lose pectoral mass within just 23 days. Signs
of emaciation are a prominent keel bone and translucent skin.
CLINICAL NOTE
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tion, and egg laying all draw vast reserves of energy. In
addition, incubation and feeding hungry chicks leaves little
time for the parent to forage so it can suffer from a short-
age of energy. Molting also increases the metabolic rate
because birds need to draw on protein and energy for
feather regrowth (Blem 2000).
Thermoregulation
Birds regulate their body temperature between 3942 C,
with smaller birds like the passerines having higher body tem-
peratures and large flightless birds like the ostrich falling
within the mammalian range (Dawson & Whittow 2000).
They have very poor tolerance for high temperatures and
46 C is fatal. Unlike mammals, they have no brown fat but
regulate their body temperature by a variety of behavioral
and physiological means.
Plumage
Birds use their plumage for both heat loss and heat conser-
vation. The contour feathers provide some insulation but it
is the fluffy down feathers underneath that provide most
thermal insulation. When cold, birds fluff these feathers to
trap air pockets between the feathers and will shiver the
pectoral muscles to produce heat. They can also reduce
heat loss by 12% by tucking their head under their wing
and by 4050% by sitting down (Dawson & Whittow 2000;
Maina 1996; Welty 1982b).
To dissipate heat birds can extend their wings from their
body and elevate the scapula feathers to expose the bare
skin (apteria) of the back of the neck.
Body mass
Birds are extremely sensitive to draughts or poor ventilation
as heat loss due to convection means they must increase
their metabolic rate. This is particularly severe in small birds
as the high ratio of surface area to body mass means body
cooling is more rapid. Likewise feather-plucking birds or
young chicks are also very vulnerable and need extra nutri-
tional support to avoid negative energy balance.
Fat is a very poor thermal conductor so aquatic birds like
penguins which inhabit cold climates have a large subcuta-
neous layer of fat to insulate against the cold.
Evaporation
Birds which are overheated can use thermal panting or
gular fluttering. Thermal panting increases evaporative loss
from the upper respiratory tract and is a highly effective
means of heat loss. In fact, the ostrich can maintain a body
temperature of 39.3 C by thermal panting, even when the
ambient temperature is 51 C (Welty 1982b). Gular
fluttering is when the bird vibrates the hyoid muscle
and bones in the throat causing evaporation from the
lining of the mouth and throat (Dawson & Whittow
2000).
When the bird is expending high energy, that is, when it
is flying or running, heat can also be dissipated through the
large surface area of the airsacs (Jukes 1971). Flying also
exposes the thinly feathered ventral wing and dissipates
heat by convection.
Blood shunting
Birds do not have sweat glands but lose heat through their
skin or via blood shunts. Some birds, like pigeons and doves,
dilate a large vascular plexus on the back of their neck called
the plexus venosus intracutaneous collaris (Harlin 1994;
Hooimeijer & Dorrestein 1997).
A large proportion of the blood from the left ventricle
flows to the legs during stress to increase heat loss. In some
long-legged species the legs get three times as much blood
per heartbeat as the pectoral muscles and twice as much as
the brain. Some aquatic and wading birds have coun-
tercurrent arteriovenous retes in the proximal feathered
part of the leg. These tibiotarsal retes transfer heat from
body core arteries to the colder venous vessels bringing
blood from the extremities. This enables blood to flow to
the legs without detrimental heat loss (West et al. 1981).
Behavior
When they are cold some birds select microclimates to reduce
heat loss, like roosting in holes or sheltering in trees. Small
birds often huddle together to keep warm. They also adapt
their behavior in the heat of the day by seeking shade, bathing
or soaring on thermals for cooler air (Dawson & Whittow
2000).
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It is important to avoid too much feather plucking in the
surgical patient to prevent heat loss. Use warmed prepping
solutions only and avoid surgical spirit as this will also increase
evaporative heat loss.
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POI NTS
The constraints of flight means there is more
morphological uniformity among birds than in reptiles or
mammals.
Fast metabolism, especially in passerines, means birds
must eat frequently to maintain energy levels.
Birds are endothermic, with a body temperature range
of 4042 C.
Birds conserve heat via insulating plumage and tibiotarsal
retes.
Birds lose heat by exposing bare areas of skin, through
the airsacs, panting and gular fluttering, and dilation
of superficial blood vessels.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
SKELETAL SYSTEM
There are two main subclasses of bird in existence today and
these are based on the anatomical structure of the sternum.
These are the ratites, which include the flightless emu, ostrich
(Fig. 6.3), and kiwi, and the carinates, which include the
rest of avian species (8616 species). The largest living carinate
is the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) which has a wingspan
of 3 m and weighs 15 kg.
Ossification of bones
Like mammals, birds ossify their skeleton on a cartilaginous
model although secondary centers of ossification are lacking.
The cortex is relatively thin but the medulla is bridged by
numerous trabecular struts to add extra strength (Evans
1996; Taylor et al. 1971; Tully 2002).
Cortical bone is similar in both sexes but in the female
the medullary cavity is very labile and is the most important
calcium reserve for the egg (Taylor et al. 1971; Tully 2002).
Prior to laying, medullary bone draws calcium from the ali-
mentary tract to calcify the medullary cavity (Johnson, AL
2000). Bony trabeculae are laid down from the endosteum
and the total skeleton increases by about 20%. This phe-
nomenon, called polyostotic hyperostosis, is visible radiographi-
cally and is followed by bone resorption once the eggshell
is calcified (Fig. 6.62).
Skeletal modifications for flight
Birds have a lightweight fused skeleton. For example,
the skeleton of a pigeon is 4.4% of body mass
compared to that of a rats skeleton which is 5.6%
(King & King 1979; Maina 1996) (Fig. 6.4).
The avian forelimb is modified into a wing while
the bill and neck are modified for food prehension.
The manus is tapered and fused to hold the primary
feathers (Figs. 6.5 and 6.6).
Many bones of the backbone and limbs are fused to
form a rigid and strong but light framework. The fused
rib cage helps resist the twisting and bending of wings
in flight while the rigid pectoral girdle acts like a wing
strut. A fused tail vertebra (pygostyle) provides a short
tail for steering and maneuverability. The sternum is
keeled (carinate) to hold the muscles of flight (King &
Custance 1982; King & King 1979).
The airsacs extend into the medullary cavity of the
major bones, such as the humerus, coracoid, pelvis,
sternum, and vertebrae. They are most developed
in the good fliers to help in weight reduction. In
some birds the femur, scapula and furcula are also
pneumatized but this does not tend to happen to the
distal bones. The skull also consists of a honeycomb
of air spaces with delicate spicules for support
(Koch 1973; Maina 1996).
The supracoracoid muscle lifts the wing by passing
from its ventral attachment on the sternum through
the triosseal foramen to insert on the dorsal humerus.
This keeps all the heavy flight muscles along with the
muscular gizzard situated ventrally at the birds center
of gravity (King & Custance 1982).
Skull
The cranial bones of the skull are fused to form a rigid, but
lightweight, box with large orbits separated by a thin, bony
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Figure 6.3 The skeleton of a ratite (ostrich, Struthio camelus), showing
flat sternum, rudimentary pectoral girdle and vestigial wings. Unlike other
avian species the ostrich also has a pubic symphysis which may be an
adaptation to support the heavy mass of the viscera.
The thin avian cortices and internal bone struts mean that
bones can splinter very easily, making orthopedic surgery a
challenge at times (Orosz 2002).
CLINICAL NOTE
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parrots even more flexibility of movement (Evans 1996;
Quesenberry et al. 1997).
The mobile quadrate bone also plays a major role in skull
kinesis. This bone not only articulates with the cranium but
also with the premaxilla via two rodlike thin bones called
the jugal arch (precursor of the zygomatic bone) and
pterygoidpalatine bone. When the jawbone is lowered the
quadrate bone pushes these two bones rostrally to elevate
the upper jaw, allowing the bird a wide gape (Evans 1996;
Maina 1996).
Premaxilla
The upper jaw is derived from the premaxillary and nasal bone
and a small part of the maxillary bone. This is very thin and
lightweight, owing to the diverticula extending from the
infraorbital sinus. The kinetic movement of this upper jaw
is either prokinetic or rhynchokinetic. In prokinetic birds,
like psittacines and chickens, the upper jaw moves as a unit
and the nasal openings are small and oval (Fig. 6.8). In rhyn-
chokinetic birds (e.g., pigeons and waterfowl) only the rostral
part of the upper jaw moves and the nasal openings are elon-
interorbital septum (Figs. 6.106.12). The brain has been
pushed caudally and ventrally into the occipital region and
lies at a 45-degree angle tilt. A single occipital condyle
articulates with the atlas, allowing birds to rotate their neck
to an angle of 180 degrees (Dyce et al. 2002; Koch 1973).
Within the rostral skull there are large areas of honey-
comb pockets of air or sinuses that are especially prominent
in flighted birds. The infraorbital sinus has many diverticula
and is very well developed in psittacines. Diving birds and
birds that peck at hard objects (e.g., woodpeckers) lack these
pneumatic zones in order to help the skull withstand more
concussive force.
Cranial kinesis
Birds, especially psittacines, have a highly mobile kinetic
skull. This means that, unlike mammals that can only move
their bottom jaw, they are also able to move their maxillary jaw
(upper beak). This wide gape is achieved by an elastic hinge
at the rostral skull that allows the bones to bend without
disturbing the cranium (Fig. 6.7). In psittacines, this elastic
hinge is replaced by an articular craniofacial joint, allowing
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Maxilla
Mandible
Cervical
vertebra
Cervical rib
Coracoid
Furcula
Sternal rib
Carina
Tibiotarsus
Fibula
Tarsometatarsus
Fused thoracic vertebrae
Humerus
Radius
Alular digit (l) Carpometacarpus
Ulna
Carpus
Scapula
Vertebral rib
Uncinate process
Ilium
Free caudal
vertebrae
Pygostyle
Ischium
Pubis
Femur
Digit (III)
Digit (II)
Figure 6.4 The skeleton of a carinate, the
pigeon, showing modifications for flight: large
keeled sternum for flight muscles, fused
thoracic vertebrae, strong pectoral girdle for
bracing the wings and large feet to withstand
the concussion of landing.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
gated and slitlike (King & McLelland 1984; Quesenberry et
al. 1997) (Fig. 6.9).
Mandible
The mandible in birds consists of five small bones which fuse
caudally with the articular bone. The most rostral bone is
the dentary bone and this forms a fully ossified mandibular
symphysis. The others are the surangular, angular, splenial
and prearticular. Caudally, the articular bone articulates
with the quadrate bone. In mammals these two bones have
evolved into the auditory bones incus and malleus.
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(a)
Upper jaw
Braincase
Craniofacial
hinge joint
Quadrate
bone
Articular
Palatine
Pterygoid
Jugal arch
Mandible
(b)
Bony external nares
Craniofacial hinge joint
Palatine
Pterygoid
Quadrate
bone
Jugal arch
Figure 6.5 Skeleton of Blue and gold macaw (Ara ararauna). Note the
s-shaped neck, the powerful beak (the lower beak is damaged in this
specimen) and complete orbit of the psittacine.
Figure 6.6 Blue and gold macaw (Ara ararauna).
KEY POI NTS
Avian skull is highly kinetic
Movable quadrate bone allows wide gape
Single occipital condyle so can rotate head 180 degrees
Well-developed sinuses
Psittacines have synovial joint at craniofacial maxillary
hinge for greater gape
Figure 6.7 Cranial kinesis.
(a) Skull of domestic fowl (Gallus gallus) with mouth closed.
(b) Open mouth view. When the jawbone is lowered the quadrate bone
pushes the jugal arch and pterygoid-palatine bone rostrally to elevate the
upper jaw, allowing the bird a wide gape.
Figure 6.8 Prokinesis.
The upper jaw moves as a unit and the nasal openings are small and oval.
This is particularly developed in psittacines, which have a craniofacial
hinge.
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Axial skeleton
Birds have epaxial muscles dorsally and hypaxial muscles
ventrally along the vertebral column. These are most
developed in the neck for preening and the apprehension
of food. The tail muscles are also well developed for
fine control of the tail feathers. The number of vertebrae
can vary widely according to species, as can be seen in
Table 6.2.
Cervical vertebrae
The forelimbs are modified for flight so the neck and beak
play a larger role in grooming and manipulation of objects.
In general, necks tend to be longer in waterfowl, which need
to be able to reach the uropygial gland for preening.
The cervical vertebrae are long and flexible (numbering
from 8 in small birds to 25 in swans) with highly mobile,
saddle shaped, articular surfaces enabling it to adopt the
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Palatine
Upper jaw
Lower jaw
Nasal openings
Braincase
Pterygoid
Quadrate
bone Jugal arch
Figure 6.9 Rhynchokinesis.
In birds like pigeons and waterfowl only the rostral part of the upper jaw
moves and the nasal openings are elongated and slitlike.
Table 6.2 Number of vertebrae in common avian species
(Evans 1996; Koch 1973)
Fronto-nasal
joint
Frontal Parietal
Temporal
Occipital
Quadrate
Jugal arch
Suborbital arch
Mandible
Premaxilla
Tips of horny beaks
Figure 6.10 Psittacine skull showing complete orbits and powerful
beak.
Figure 6.11 Psittacine skull.
Figure 6.12 Skull of eagle owl (Bubo bubo) demonstrating large incom-
plete orbits and powerful hooked beak for tearing at prey.
Cervical Thoracic Synsacrum Coccygeal
Pigeon 12 7 (Notarium) Fused 8
Chicken 1417 7 (Notarium) Fused (1516) 56
Geese 1718 9 Fused 8
Duck 1415 9 Fused 8
Budgie 12 8 Fused 8
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
sigmoid shape bend. Rostrally, the atlas articulates in a ball
and socket joint with a single occipital condyle giving head
movement great flexibility (Maina 1996). This allows the
bird to rotate its head to compensate for poorly developed
eye muscles. The caudal cervical vertebrae have rudimentary
ribs which are the site of attachment of the cervical muscles
(King & McLelland 1984; Koch 1973).
Thoracic vertebrae
In birds, much of the lower vertebrae can be fused to
confer rigidity on the skeleton for flight. Many species, like
chickens, hawks, and pigeons, have the first 3 to 5 thoracic
vertebrae fused into a single bone, the notarium, which
provides a rigid beam to support flight (King & McLelland
1984; Koch 1973). This is followed by the only mobile
vertebra of the trunk. This can be a weak link because,
when ventrally displaced, it causes spondylolisthesis or
kinky back in broilers (Dyce et al. 2002). Budgies have
mobile thoracic vertebrae at T6-7 (Evans 1996).
Thoracic vertebrae vary in number from 3 to 10 and can
be identified by ribs, which articulate with the sternum.
Some cranial and caudal ribs lack a sternal attachment but
have a ligamentous attachment instead. External and internal
intercostal muscles lie between each rib. A unique feature
of avian ribs is a backward-pointing process, the uncinate
process, which extends caudodorsally from every rib. This
provides attachment for muscles which extend ventrocaudally
to the rib behind, adding strength to the thoracic wall and
acting like a protective brace around the chest and heart.
These are particularly well developed in diving birds such
as guillemots to help the thorax withstand the pressure of
a dive.
Synsacrum
This contains from 10 to 23 vertebrae and is the fusion of
caudal thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and caudal vertebrae. It
supports the pelvic girdle and hence the birds entire mass
(Fig. 6.15).
Caudal vertebrae
The tail is short and the last vertebrae are fused into a single,
flattened bone called the pygostyle, which supports the tail
feathers (Fig. 6.14). This is most highly developed in birds
that use their tail for climbing and support. Well-developed
muscles are present to help control the pitch during flight
(King & King 1979; King & McLelland 1984).
Sternum
This is much more extensive than in mammals, being a
ventral plate of bone providing protection. The keel bone
(carina) provides the main attachment for the flight mus-
cles. It is most developed in sophisticated fliers like swifts
and hummingbirds and least developed in the flightless
ratites, which have a flat and raft-like sternum (Bezuidenhout
1999; King & McLelland 1984; Maina 1996).
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The soft tissues of the neck, the esophagus, and trachea are
shorter than the cervical vertebrae, so it is impossible to
stretch a birds neck out completely. This sigmoid neck acts
like a spring to protect the head and brain from concussive
forces while landing. Hence the elegant s-shaped neck of the
swan (Koch 1973) (Fig. 6.13).
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 6.13 Mute swan (Cygnus olor) showing s-shaped neck.
In psittacines the last rib does not possess an uncinate
process so this provides a useful surgical and laparoscopic
landmark (Quesenberry et al. 1997).
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 6.14 Lateral view of psittacine pelvis, caudal vertebrae and
pygostyle.
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The caudal portion of the sternum is often notched or
perforated by windows. These are areas of the sternum that
have failed to ossify and are lined by fibrous membranes.
They are most developed in poor fliers like poultry (Dyce
et al. 2002; Koch 1973).
Figure 6.16 Ventral view of pectoral girdle and left wing.
Appendicular skeleton
Pectoral girdle
This consists of the clavicle, coracoid, and scapula, all of
which articulate proximally to form the triosseal foramen.
Distally, the scapula and coracoid also form the glenoid cavity,
which is shallow and directed laterally to allow the wings
adduct and abduct for flight (Evans 1996) (Fig. 6.16).
Clavicle
Along with the coracoid, this acts to brace the wing and is
the proximal attachment of the pectoralis muscle. These are
rudimentary in many Psittaciformes and Strigiformes
(Evans 1996; King & McLelland 1984). In many species the
two clavicles are fused into the furcula (wishbone) for extra
strength. This unites both shoulder blades and has a springlike
function (Koch 1973).
Coracoid
This is a short, strong bone which extends from the sternum
and acts like a wing strut in preventing the wing muscles
from compressing the thorax on the downstroke (King &
McLelland 1984). It lies deep below the cranial edge of the
pectoralis muscle and lateral to the jugular veins and sub-
clavian and common carotid arteries.
Scapula
This is a long blade-like bone whose length varies with the
flying strength of each species. It lies parallel to the back-
bone and extends as far caudally as the pelvis.
Pelvic girdle
The pelvic girdle rotates backward and functions for perching
and locomotion like running and swimming. It is made up
of a fusion of the ischium, pubis, and ilium and is rigidly
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Figure 6.15 Dorsal view of psittacine synsacrum, pelvis, caudal
vertebrae and pygostyle.
2nd digit
phalanx ll
2nd digit
phalanx l
Major
metacarpal
3rd digit
phalanx l
Minor
metacarpal
1st digit
phalanges l & ll
Radial carpal bone
Ulnar
carpal bone
Radius
Ulna
Attachment site
for wing secondaries
Humerus
Glenoid fossa
Olecranon
process of ulna
Triosseal canal
Acromion
process
of the scapula
Coracoid
Blade of
the scapula
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
fused to the synsacrum at the ilium. In most species it is
incomplete ventrally, presumably to allow for passage of
eggs through the pelvic canal (King & Custance 1982). The
exceptions are the ostrich and rhea, which have a pubic
symphysis that may be an adaptation to support the heavy
mass of viscera (Bezuidenhout 1999; Evans 1996; Koch
1973; Maina 1996; Raikow 1985) (Fig. 6.17).
The acetabulum is deep and, as there is a strong femoral
attachment, luxation is uncommon (Quesenberry et al. 1997).
The trochanter of the femur also articulates with the
antitrochanter of the ilium and this additional joint enables
birds to perch on one leg very easily (Maina 1996). Ventrally
there are bilateral renal fossae for the caudal division of the
kidneys.
Wings
The wing skeleton consists of humerus, radius, ulna, carpal
bones, carpometacarpus, and three digits (Orosz et al. 1992).
Humerus
The humerus is a short bone that lies against the body wall
when the wing is folded. Proximally, it has a well-devel-
oped pectoral crest where the pectoralis muscles insert.
The biceps brachii lies along the cranial humerus and serves
to flex the wing while the triceps brachii lies caudally and
serves to extend the wing. The clavicular airsac extends
into the medullary cavity, making this bone pneumatic.
Radius and ulna
These are long bones that lie parallel to each other. In birds,
these bones do not twist and the ulna, which lies caudally,
is the bigger bone. Small bony knobs can be seen on the
caudal aspect where the secondary flight feathers insert.
Manus
The wrist and hand are severely reduced to provide a strong
base for the attachment of the primary flight feathers. Only
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As the coracoid bone acts as the brace between wing and
sternum it is commonly damaged during wing trauma. If the
wing is drooping and the humerus feels intact, radiography
may be necessary to check the coracoid bone for fractures.
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 6.17 Sternum and pelvis of ostrich (Struthio camelus). The pubic symphysis may be an adaptation to support the heavy mass of viscera in these
species.
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the ulnar and radial carpal bones remain to form the proxi-
mal carpus, which is then attached to the carpometacarpus.
There are three digits. The first digit is the alular digit and
can have 1 or 2 phalanges. This forms the bastard wing and
is more mobile than the rest. Feathers attached to this digit
are raised during flight to prevent stalling at slow speeds
(Orosz 2002).
The major metacarpal bone articulates with the major or
second digit, which has two phalanges, while the minor
metacarpal bone articulates with the minor or third digit
(Fig. 6.18). The carpus and elbow joints are restricted only
to extensions and flexion in order to provide a rigid wing
surface. They flex simultaneously to fold the wing (Orosz
2002; Orosz et al. 1992).
Pinioning
This is when the manus is cut off at the carpus on one wing to
prevent flight. It is frequently done in waterfowl collections at
between 4 to 10 days of age. The alular digit is preserved and
a cut is made through the two metacarpals as close as possible
to the carpus (Dyce et al. 2002; King & McLelland 1984).
Wing types
Four basic wing types can be identified: elliptical, broad,
narrow and tapered (Fig. 6.20, Table 6.3). Passerines and
pigeons maneuver through undergrowth and have short,
broad elliptical wings with rapid beats. They have a large
alula and wing slots to prevent stalling at low speeds. Eagles
and vultures have a long broad wing that enables them to
soar at low speeds. These birds have a large alula and wing
slots. Ocean-going birds like gulls and gannets have a long,
narrow, and pointed wing with no wing slots, allowing them
to soar at high speeds. Swifts and falcons have a tapered wing
with no wing slots, which allows them to fly with rapid wing
beats at high speeds (King & King 1979; King & McLelland
1984; Maina 1996).
Figure 6.18 Radiograph of distal wing of Buzzard (Buteo buteo) with
major and minor metacarpals fractured by lead shot.
Musculature
The main bulk of muscles in flying birds is concentrated in
the pectoral muscles, which can represent up to one third
of body mass. This concentration of the muscle mass ven-
trally, near the center of gravity, provides stability for flight.
Unlike mammals, birds have a very sparse dorsal muscu-
lature as the axial skeleton is so tightly fused together that
little muscle support is necessary. The muscles of the limbs
and wings are also sparse, with many lightweight tendons
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The secondary flight feathers insert onto the caudal ulna
bones. The distal ulna is also the site for placement of
intraosseous catheters.
CLINICAL NOTE
Contrary to popular belief, birds fly in a very different manner
to airplanes as their wings provide not just the lift but the
propulsive force as well. It is the primary wing feathers which
provide most of this propulsion and the secondaries that
provide the lift, which is why pinioning of waterfowl is so
successful. Smaller birds become rapidly airborne, but large
birds like the swan have to taxi along the water before they
can take off (Spearman & Hardy 1985).
The dorsal surface of the birds wing is convex and the
ventral surface is concave. The leading edge is thickest where
bones and muscles provide strength and tapers caudally to
the trailing edge. Air traveling over the dorsal wing has to
travel further than air passing ventrally and this increased
speed produces low pressure dorsally. As the air passes over
it generates an upward force called lift. This aerodynamic
force is what enables the bird to rise into the air and defy
gravity (Spearman & Hardy 1985).
If the leading edge of the wing is tilted the lift force is
increased. Wing control is achieved by changes in position
of the wings and slots between the feathers (Fig. 6.19).
To avoid stalling at low speeds, slots are formed by the
separation of the primary feathers and the alular or bastard
wing. These slots let through some air to maintain a smooth
stream on the upper surface so as to increase lift.
A drag force opposes the forward motion and reduces the
lift. The aerofoil design of the birds wing provides maximum
lift and minimum drag.
HOW DO BIRDS FLY?
Figure 6.19 Flighted bird about to land.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
(Koch 1973). Birds like swifts, which rarely land, have prac-
tically redundant leg musculature, while the flightless ostrich
has large leg muscles to help them run at high speeds.
Avian muscles have a mixture of both white and red mus-
cles. Red muscle appears red due to the abundance of the
oxygen-carrying pigment myoglobin and has an extensive
blood supply. As these utilize aerobic metabolism, which
can work for long periods, it is found in flight muscles.
White muscle is powered by anaerobic metabolism, which
is good for rapid contractions, but it tires easily due to
lactic acid build up (King & McLelland 1984).
The function of the muscle can be identified by its color
(Fig. 6.21). For example, we all know the flightless chicken
has white breast muscle and a darker colored drumstick.
This is because the gastrocnemius leg muscles contain ten
times more myoglobin than the breast. The flighted pigeon,
conversely, has pectoralis muscle containing 40 times more
myoglobin than chicken muscle (Dyce et al. 2002).
Muscles of flight
The muscles of flight are the pectoralis and the supracora-
coid muscles and can represent about 20% of body mass.
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(a) Elliptical
(b) Long and broad
(c) Tapered
(d) Long and narrow
Figure 6.20 Comparison of four basic
wing types.
(a) Elliptical
(b) Long and broad
(c) Tapered
(d) Long and narrow
Table 6.3 Wing shape in relation to type of flight
(King & McLelland 1984)
Figure 6.21 Flighted birds like this Sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua
sulphurea) have a high level of myoglobin in the pectoral muscles. The
breast muscles appear red in contrast to the white breast muscles of the
flightless chicken. (Photo by Claire Nuttall.)
Wing type Type of species Type of flight
Elliptical, short & broad Passerines, pheasants, Rapid wing beat
(wing slots) pigeons
Long and broad (wing Vultures, eagles, Low speed
slots) pelicans soaring
Tapered (no wing slots) Swifts, falcons, Rapid, high-speed
hummingbirds, wing beat
terns
Long, narrow and Albatrosses, gulls, High-speed
pointed (no wing gannets soaring
slots)
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The pectoralis provides the powerful down stroke and the
supracoracoid provides the upstroke (Raikow 1985). Flightless
birds have a poorly developed keel bone and, hence, pectoral
muscles.
The pectoral muscles extend from the sternum to insert
on the medial pectoral crest of the humerus. In most birds
like Psittaciformes, Falconiformes, and Columbiformes, the
superficial pectoral muscles form the main pectoral mass as
they create the downstroke and are consequently essential
for flapping flight. Birds like vultures and ocean going sea-
birds, which glide and soar over long distances, have a well-
developed deep pectoral muscle to help brace the wing
against the force of wind and keep it motionless while
gliding (King & King 1979; Orosz 2002; Orosz et al. 1992).
The supracoracoid muscle also attaches to the ventral ster-
num beneath the pectoral muscles (Fig. 6.22). Its tendon
then runs dorsally through the triosseal canal to insert on the
dorsal tubercle of the humerus. By this method, a muscle
lying below the wing can elevate the wing for flight and this
keeps the mass of the bird stable. This muscle is used mainly
for takeoff and is not necessary while in flight. It is particu-
larly developed in species that hover and perform steep
takeoffs (King & Custance 1982; King & McLelland 1984).
The tail acts as a rudder and brake. The tail feathers are
attached to the pygostyle and radiate from it like a fan. Each
feather can both move individually or as a whole, giving the
bird fine control during flight. They can fan out to create drag
and slow the bird down or twist to cause turning in flight
(King & McLelland 1984; Raikow 1985).
Propatagium
This triangular fold of skin extends from the shoulder to the
carpus and forms the leading edge of the wing. It consists
of thin dorsal and ventral layers of skin with a strong liga-
ment running along the edge. This ligamentum propatagiale
arises proximally on the deltopectoral crest and inserts onto
the extensor process of the carpometacarpus. It has collagen
at each end, is elastic in the middle and, when tensed, helps
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Triosseal canal
Supracoracoideus
muscles
Scapula
Humerus Coracoid
Sternum
Furcula
(fused clavicles)
Pectoralis muscles
Figure 6.22 Diagram of pectoral muscles demonstrating how both the supracoracoideus, which elevates the wing, and the pectoralis, which
depresses the wing, have ventral origins. This keeps the heavy musculature close to the birds center of gravity.
The pectoral muscles can be palpated to assess body
condition and are also a site for intramuscular injections.
However, pectoral injections should be avoided in birds
relying on 100% flight efficiency: for example, birds of prey
or wild birds due to be released.
Many birds (such as Galliformes) have fenestrated
sternums, so when making intramuscular injections introduce
the needle cranially, parallel to the sternum, to avoid
puncturing the liver.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
to achieve smooth airflow. Elastic branches fan out from the
elastic part of the ligamentum and across the propatagium
to insert on the dorsal antebrachial fascia of the distal ulna.
In some large raptors a support ligament runs parallel to
this tendon to give additional support when the wing is
extended (Brown & Klemm 1990).
Pelvic limbs
The pelvic limb has been fused distally to absorb the shock
of takeoff and landing (Figs. 6.23 and 6.24). It consists of
femur, tibiotarsus, fibula, tarsometatarsus, metatarsal bone,
and in most birds, four digits. It is covered by feathers and
skin as far as the level of the intertarsal joint and is followed
by scales below. In general the pelvic limb is not involved in
flight and is used more for swimming, catching prey, and
wading (Orosz et al. 1992) (Fig. 6.25).
Femur
This is a short bone that slopes cranially (almost horizontally)
in order to ensure that the large feet lie under the birds
center of gravity. It articulates with the tibiotarsus and the
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The propatagium, along with feathers, is essential for
producing aerodynamic lift for flight. Propatagial tears or
injury to the propatagial ligament are very difficult to repair
and can render the bird flightless (Brown & Klemm 1990;
Orosz 2002).
CLINICAL NOTE
Pygostyle
Caudal vertebrae
Ischium
Pubis
Ilium
Ischiadic foramen
Obturator foramen
Femur
Patella
Cnemial
crest
Fibula
Tibiotarsus
Lateral condyle
Tarsometatarsus
Metatarsal I
1st digit
Basal phalanx
Terminal
phalanx
2nd digit
3rd digit 4th digit
Figure 6.23 Lateral view of pelvic limb.
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patella. As in mammals, the knee joint has two menisci, cranial
and caudal ligaments, and collateral ligaments (Harcourt-
Brown 1996). The femorotibialis muscle (the equivalent of
the mammalian quadriceps) acts to extend the knee joint,
and the patella is a sesamoid in its tendon of insertion. The
main movements are flexion and extension.
Tibiotarsus
The tibiotarsus is the fusion of the tibia and proximal tarsal
bones and is commonly called the drumstick in poultry. It
is the largest bone on the pelvic limb (Evans 1996). A cranial
crest known as the cnemial crest lies at the proximal tibia.
The fibula lies laterally and is short and not well developed
in birds. The equivalent of the hock joint is between the
tibiotarsus and the tarsometatarsus; movement here is mainly
flexion and extension.
Tarsometatarsus
This is the fusion of tarsal bones 2, 3, and 4, to the corre-
sponding metatarsal bones. The shape varies according to
the locomotion of species. An elongated metatarsus conveys
extra leverage for running or for takeoff in flight. The first
metatarsus lies separate but is joined to the tarsometatarsus
by ligaments. As it lies distally it can often be mistaken for
a phalanx (Harcourt-Brown 1996; Raikow 1985; Smith &
Smith 1997).
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Head
Greater trochanter
Femur
Patella
Cnemial crest
Fibula
Tibiotarsus
Medial condyle
Intertarsal joint
Tarsometatarsus
Metatarsal l
Phalanges
1st digit
2nd digit
3rd digit
4th digit
l
ll
Figure 6.24 Cranial view of right pelvic limb.
When birds walk they lean outwards to bring the center
of gravity above the foot on the ground while the other leg
is in the air. This is achieved by lateral rotation of the distal
femur creating a waddling type gait. This is most noticeable
in short-legged birds like ducks (Raikow 1985).
WHY DOES A DUCK WADDLE?
Figure 6.25 Cranial view of skeleton of perching eagle owl (Bubo bubo).
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Phalanges
Most birds have four digits with varying numbers of phalanges.
Digit 1 will have two phalanges, digit 2 has three, digit 3
has four, etc. Digit 1 (the equivalent of our big toe) is often
called the hallux and usually projects caudally. This is rudi-
mentary in ground-dwelling birds and in fact the ostrich
only has two toes (Bezuidenhout 1999; Evans 1996).
The main action of the digits is flexion and extension.
When birds perch their tendons are flexed and small sprocket-
like projections extend from these tendons and interdigitate
to hold them in place. This reduces the amount of energy
needed for perching.
Arrangement of digits
Birds are called digitigrade because, unlike humans, they
actually walk on their toes and not on their feet. The arrange-
ment of the digits depends on their function. Feet can be
used to perch, grasp prey, wade, or become fully webbed
for swimming.
Anisodactyl
The majority of birds (Columbiformes, Galliformes, Passeri-
formes, Falconiformes) have an adaptation for perching or
holding prey such that they have one toe facing backward
and three facing forward (Fig. 6.26). Passerines also have an
extra extensor muscle, the extensor hallucis longis to extend
their first digit. Galliformes commonly have spurs on the
caudomedial aspect of the tarsometatarsus (Fig. 6.27);
these are more developed in the male (King & McLelland
1984).
Zygodactyl
Species like psittacines, have two (first and fourth) toes
facing caudally and two (second and third) facing cranially.
These species use their feet for grasping and climbing
(Fig. 6.28). Owls and ospreys have a basic zygodactyl
foot but can move the fourth digit from back to front
(Raikow 1985).
Palmate
This is seen in ducks, geese, swans, and gulls and is when the
cranial digits 2, 3, and 4 are webbed. The capacity to grip
is sacrificed and the backward-pointing digit loses contact
with the ground (Fig. 6.29).
Figure 6.27 Anisodactyl
Galliformes.
Galliforme foot showing spurs
on the caudomedial aspect of
the tarsometatarsus.
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The gastrocnemius tendon runs caudally along tibial cartilage
to insert on the plantar aspect of tarsometatarsus. Calcium
deficiency leading to nutritional osteodystrophy causes
malformation of the tarsometatarsus. This causes the tendons
to slip medially, causing lameness and rendering the bird
unable to perch properly.
CLINICAL NOTE
Anisodactyl
Figure 6.26 Anisodactyl.
The majority of birds (e.g., passerines, pigeons) have one toe facing back
and three facing forward. This is an adaptation for perching or holding
prey.
Galliformes
Spurs
KEY POI NTS
Thin bone cortices with internal medullary struts for
strength
Hens deposit calcium in medullary cavity prior to laying
Rigid fused backbone for stability during flight many
species have weak link around T4
Flight muscles all located ventrally on sternum, nearer to
birds center of gravity
Neck and tail most flexible parts of backbone
Pelvis incomplete ventrally, with fossae for kidneys
Primary feathers insert on manus while secondary
feathers insert on caudal ulna
Celomic cavities
Birds have no diaphragm and so have one body cavity called
the celom that extends from the first thoracic vertebra to
the vent. This cavity is not lined by serosa, as in mammals,
but instead contains 16 separate cavities, 8 of which are air-
sacs. The remaining eight cavities consist of three (two
pleura and one pericardial) that resemble mammalian ones,
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and five peritoneal ones unique to birds. These cavities are
of significance as they may influence the spread of pathology
through the whole of the celomic cavity.
Pleural and pericardial cavities
The pericardial cavity is connected ventrally to the sternum
and dorsally to the lung hilus and horizontal septum. The
right and left pleural cavities are lined ventrally by a
peritoneal sheet: the horizontal septum (Duncker 1979;
King & McLelland 1975, 1984).
Peritoneal cavities
Birds lack an omentum, but a double-layered peritoneal
sheet, the post-hepatic septum, stops the spread of disease
by bringing in a healthy blood supply and divides the caudal
cavity into three main parts. These are the middle intestinal
cavity and two lateral hepatic cavities surrounding the liver.
The hepatic cavities are in turn divided into the left and
right ventral hepatic and left and right dorsal hepatic. The
ventral hepatic ones are blind cavities between the ventral
liver and body wall; the dorsal hepatic ones lie between the
body wall and the dorsolateral liver. The intestinal cavity
lies in the midline and contains the gastrointestinal tract, the
gonads, and the oviduct, each of which lie suspended in
their individual mesenteries (Duncker 1979; King &
McLelland 1975, 1984).
CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
The heart lies in the midline and slightly to the right and is
surrounded by a thin but tough pericardium (Akester 1984),
which is attached to the dorsal surface of the sternum, the
surrounding airsacs, and liver. The lungs lie dorsal to the
heart and not surrounding it, while the liver lobes cover the
base of the heart dorsally and laterally (Smith & Smith
1997).
The heart has four chambers with separate right and left
sides so that oxygenated and deoxygenated blood never
mix. It is quite similar to the mammalian heart except that
in birds the ascending aorta curves to the right. In some
species, like the chicken and ostrich, the cranial and caudal
vena cavae enter first into a sinus venosus before entering
the right atrium (King & McLelland 1984; Maina 1996;
Rosenthal 1997b). Like reptiles, birds have a renal portal
system.
The right atrioventricular valve is structurally unique to
birds in that it has no chorda tendinae and forms only a
thick, muscular flap of myocardium. The rest of the valves
are more similar to mammalian ones, except the left atri-
oventricular valve is tricuspid (Akester 1984; Smith &
Smith 1997). Unlike reptiles, where the muscle tissue of
the atrium is continuous with the ventricle, birds have a
specialized conducting system of Purkinje fibers which
carry the impulse from the atrium to the ventricle. As in
mammals, this begins at the sinoatrial node, located in the
right atrium (Akester 1984; Smith & Smith 1997; West et
al. 1981).
Arterial system
The aortic arch curves to the right and gives rise almost
immediately to two very large brachiocephalic trunks which
are responsible for distributing about three quarters of the
cardiac output to the wings, pectoral muscles, and head
(Akester 1971; West et al. 1981). These soon branch into the
subclavian arteries, which supply the wings (brachial artery)
and flight muscle (pectoral artery), and the carotid arteries
which supply the head (Fig. 6.32). The carotid arteries run
along a groove at the base of the cervical vertebrae close to
the axis of rotation. This prevents movements of the flexible
neck arresting blood flow to the brain (King & McLelland
1984; Rosenthal 1997b; Smith & Smith 1997).
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Zygodactyl
Figure 6.28 Zygodactyl.
Psittacines have two toes facing caudally and two facing cranially. These
feet are very dexterous and used for grasping food and climbing.
Palmate
Figure 6.29 Palmate.
Swimming birds like ducks, geese and gulls have webbing of the cranial
digits II, III, and IV and are unable to grip.
These cavities mean that egg peritonitis, for example, may be
limited to the intestinal and left dorsal hepatic cavities only
(King & McLelland 1984).
CLINICAL NOTE
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The pelvic limb is supplied by the external iliac artery
and the ischiatic artery that meets the femoral artery at the
stifle to form the popliteal artery. It is this artery that forms
an arteriovenous network of vessels (rete mirabile) in many
wading birds. This aids in heat exchange by warming cold
blood from the extremities (Smith & Smith 1997).
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Unlike mammals, the heart is obscured at its base by liver
lobes rather than the lungs. This gives an hourglass
appearance to the cardiac and hepatic shadow on
ventrodorsal radiographs in many psittacine species
(Figs. 6.30 and 6.31). However, macaws have a relatively
small liver, which might lead to an over diagnosis of
cardiomegaly (Smith & Smith 1997).
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 6.30 Ventrodorsal radiograph showing normal cardiac and
hepatic silhouette in a cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus). Grit is visible
in the gizzard which lies at the level of the acetabuli.
Figure 6.31 Radiograph showing hepatomegaly secondary to
lymphoma in an African gray parrot (Psittacus erithacus).
The large brachiocephalic trunks can often be seen end on
in ventrodorsal radiographs of large birds and must not be
confused with fungal granulomas (Smith & Smith 1997).
CLINICAL NOTE
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Venous system
The cranial vena cavae are paired and receive blood from
the neck and head via the jugulars, and from the wing and
breast via the subclavian veins. At the angle of the jaw there
is a transverse anastomosis between the two jugulars which
allows blood to bypass from one side to another in case one
vein gets compressed during neck movement. This anasto-
mosis slopes caudally towards the right jugular and this
may explain why, in most species, the right jugular is much
larger than the left (Akester 1971; West et al. 1981). In some
small cage birds the left jugular is lost altogether (Evans 1996;
King & McLelland 1984).
Venous blood from the pelvic limbs, lower body, and
hindgut enters the renal portal system, which then joins the
caudal vena cava. The main bulk of the gastrointestinal tract,
pancreas, and spleen drains into the hepatic portal vein and
the liver. Unique to birds is the large caudal mesenteric or
coccygeal mesenteric vein, which drains the hindgut mesen-
tery and connects the hepatic portal vein to the renal portal
vein. As blood can flow along this vein in both directions
flow can be switched between the kidneys and the liver
(Akester 1971) (Fig. 6.33).
Renal portal system
In birds, venous return from the pelvic limbs goes through the
kidneys before reaching the caudal vena cava, contributing
about two thirds of renal flow (Smith & Smith 1997). This
is controlled by portal valves at the junction of the common
iliac and renal veins (Akester 1971; West et al. 1981). These
are unique in that they contain innervated smooth muscles.
Normally, these valves are closed to direct blood through the
kidney where they take part in tubular secretion (see Urinary
system). In times of stress adrenaline opens these valves to
allow the blood to bypass the kidneys completely. It can then
take a short cut via the coccygeal mesenteric vein to the liver
or directly into the caudal vena cava to the heart (Akester
1971, 1982; Smith & Smith 1997; West et al. 1981).
Venepuncture sites
(See Echols 1999.)
Three large peripheral veins are suitable for avian blood sampling:
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Left vertebral
Left common carotid
Brachiocephalic
Left pectoral
Coronaries
Aorta
Coeliac
Renal
Femoral
Ischiatic
Internal iliac
Cranial
mesenteric
Caudal mesenteric
Kidney
Median caudal
Figure 6.32 The major systemic arteries in the bird.
Jugular
Subclavian
Caudal vena cava
Common iliac
Hepatic portal vein
Caudal renal portal
Internal iliac
Cranial
mesenteric
Caudal
mesenteric
External iliac
Caudal renal
Liver
Figure 6.33 The major systemic veins of birds.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
The deep ulnar vein (basilic) This becomes cutaneous
at the elbow on the ventral aspect of the wing.
Hematoma formation is always a problem so digital
pressure must be applied immediately post sampling.
Right jugular vein This is the least prone to
extravasation post sampling. The vein lies in a natural
featherless tract (aptyeria) so can be easily visualized
in most birds. However, Columbiformes and
Anseriformes lack apteria, making visualization more
difficult (Echolls 1999) (Fig. 6.34).
Medial metatarsal This is less likely to form a
hematoma, owing to the scales of the leg. It is a useful
venipuncture site in waterfowl, although feathering on
the leg and the thick skin can make this vessel harder
to identify.
Toe-nail clipping Small samples can also be taken by
this method but it can be painful and the nail must be
cleaned well to avoid contamination from urates.
Cardiac physiology
In order to be able to fly birds have high oxygen demands,
so consequently the avian heart is 50 to 100% larger than in
mammals of the same size (Maina 1996; Rosenthal 1997b;
Smith & Smith 1997). The size of the heart also depends
on the amount of aerobic energy each species expends. For
example, a large bird like a swan will have a proportionately
smaller heart for its size than a racing pigeon (Maina 1996;
Smith & Smith 1997). Birds also have a far greater exercise
capacity than humans: at maximum exercise, the cardiac
output in a flying budgie is seven times greater than that of
a man or dog (King & King 1979; King & McLelland 1984;
Maina 1996).
In order to pump large volumes of blood to the wings,
head, and flight muscles, birds have a much higher cardiac
output than mammals. This is achieved by a high stroke
volume, fast heart rates (150350 resting), and slightly lower
peripheral resistance. They also have stiffer arteries to improve
blood flow and maintain a high blood pressure, ranging
from 108250 mmHg (compared to an average of 150 mmHg
in humans). Turkeys have the highest pressure of all verte-
brates, being as high as 350 mmHg (Akester 1984; Maina
1996). The consequences of this high pressure can, however,
mean that aortic rupture, heart failure and hemorrhage are
a common cause of death in stressed avian patients (Rosenthal
1997b; Welty 1982b).
Diving birds
Unlike reptiles, birds cannot shunt blood away from the lungs
while diving because the ventricles are completely divided.
Instead, diving birds use selective vasoconstriction, brady-
cardia, and a drop in cardiac output. Blood flow is diverted
from the skin, muscles and gastrointestinal tract to the brain,
sensory organs, and myocardium to protect them from hypoxia
during a dive (Akester 1984; Fowler 1986; Rosenthal 1997b).
Blood components
Blood volume varies from 5 to 13% of body mass. The
blood cells are made up of nucleated erythrocytes, throm-
bocytes, lymphocytes, monocytes, heterophils, eosinophils,
and basophils.
Erythrocytes
The avian erythrocytes are oval in shape and, being nucleated,
are usually larger than those in mammals (Fig. 6.35). Flightless
birds like the ostrich have the largest erythrocytes whereas
the more higher evolved good fliers, like passerines, tend to
have smaller erythrocytes (Maina 1996; Welty 1982b). Small
erythrocytes produce a greater combined surface area and
more efficient gas exchange, thus allowing for higher oxygen
absorption and hence a metabolic rate that is 10 times that
of mammals (Hodges 1979; King & McLelland 1984).
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Figure 6.34 Blood sampling from the right jugular vein of an Amazon
parrot.
The hummingbird has the largest heart of all, relative to its
size, in order to sustain the aerobic demand of hovering.
In contrast to the mouse (where the heart accounts for 0.5%
of its body mass) its heart represents 2.4%. When hovering it
can reach a heart rate of over 1000 beats per minute (King &
McLelland 1984).
GENERAL INTEREST
Grossly, the major avian arteries appear white due to the
collagen fibers of the tunica adventitia. These fibers produce
the stiff arteries that help combat the high blood pressure and
improve blood flow. The downside of this is that birds are
susceptible to atherosclerosis of the aorta and brachiocephalic
trunk. This is commonly seen in aged Amazon parrots
(Rosenthal 1997b).
CLINICAL NOTE
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The avian erythrocyte does not necessarily contain more
hemoglobin than mammals but species that fly at high alti-
tudes have a higher hemoglobin affinity (Butler & Bishop
2000; Welty 1982b).
Control of erythropoiesis
Erythropoiesis takes place in the bone marrow. The avian
erythrocyte has a short life span compared to that in mam-
mals, presumably due to their high metabolic rate and body
temperature. For example, duck and pigeon erythrocytes
last 42 and 3545 days, respectively, compared to 90120
and 4550 days in humans and rats (Freeman 1971; Maina
1996). This short life span means that persistent anemias
should be investigated thoroughly.
Blood loss
Birds (especially flying ones) are better able to tolerate blood
loss than mammals, with the pigeon being able to lose 8%
of its body mass from hemorrhage. This rapid restoration of
blood volume may be due to pronounced vasoconstriction
in skeletal muscles raising the blood pressure and to large
capillary beds that ensure rapid absorption of tissue fluid
(Smith & Smith 1997).
Thrombocytes
Thrombocytes are fragile, nucleated cells analogous to the
mammalian platelet, although they originate from a stem
cell and not from megakaryocytes like platelets (Freeman
1971; Powers 2000). Although avian thrombocytes are
involved in the clotting process they have little thrombo-
plastin and so do not appear to trigger the intrinsic clotting
process (Archer 1971; Hodges 1979; Powers 2000). Instead,
unlike mammals, it is the extrinsic thromboplastin shed by
the damaged tissue that plays a more major role in clotting.
This reliance on extrinsic clotting pathways may exist to
prevent exsanguination in animals with such high blood
pressure and rapid heart rates (Powers 2000).
Lymphocytes
T lymphocytes are produced by the thymus. They have a
long life span and develop cellular immunity. B lympho-
cytes produced by the Bursa of Fabricius are involved with
humoral cell responses and have a short life span.
Monocytes
These are rarely seen in peripheral blood smears, so low or zero
counts are common. They can be elevated with chronic infec-
tions like psittacosis, tuberculosis, and mycotic infections.
Heterophils and eosinophils
Heterophils are similar to mammalian neutrophils, having a
polymorphic nucleus. They are the equivalent of neutrophils
but stain acidophilic (Hodges 1979). Eosinophils account
for about 2% of total leukocytes (Freeman 1971); their
function is uncertain but may be associated with tissue
damage or parasitic disease.
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The ability to absorb more oxygen means that birds can fly
at high altitudes. The Bar-headed goose (Anser indicus)
migrates over Mount Everest and the Himalayas and has the
amazing ability to fly from sea level to an altitude of 9200 m
without having to acclimatize (King & King 1979; Scheid &
Piiper 1972).
GENERAL INTEREST
EDTA causes lysis of red blood cells in certain species, like
the ostrich, crow, and crane. Avian leukocytes are very fragile
so particular care must be taken when blood smears are
made. The use of cover slip smears may avoid cell disruption.
Smears should be made immediately after collection because
blood coagulation takes place faster in birds (3060 s) than in
mammals.
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 6.35 Blood smear from an African gray showing nucleated avian
erythrocytes; three heterophils, one eosinophil and two thrombocytes.
KEY POI NTS
Avian heart is larger for body size than mammals
Aorta arches to the right in birds. Brachiocephalic vessels
are very large as they supply pectoral arteries for flight
Heart and liver form an hourglass appearance on
ventrodorsal radiographs in many psittacines
Renal portal vein
Nucleated erythrocytes
Higher blood pressure means greater tendency to
hemorrhage, although birds are surprisingly tolerant
of blood loss
EDTA lyses red blood cells in some species so a fresh
blood smear is always advisable
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IMMUNE SYSTEM
Birds have both primary and secondary lymphoid organs. The
primary organs are the Bursa of Fabricius and the thymus;
the secondary ones are the spleen, intestinal lymphoid tissue
and bone marrow (Rose 1981; Schmidt 1997).
Thymus
The thymus is found in the neck and consists of three to eight
flattened, pale pink lobes lying along the neck, close to the
jugular vein. In most birds some tissue persists throughout
life although it decreases in size at sexual maturity (Payne
1984; Schmidt 1997). T-lymphocyte precursors are produced
by stem cells in the embryo yolk sac and bone marrow and
then develop into T lymphocytes in the thymus. These act
in cell-mediated immunity, such as delayed hypersensitivity
reactions (Rose 1981; Payne 1984).
Bursa of Fabricius
The Bursa of Fabricius is unique to birds. It was first described
in the hen by Hieronymus Fabricius in 1621 (Payne 1984).
It is a dorsal diverticulum in the proctodeum, which con-
tains folds of lymphoid tissue. In psittacines, galliformes
and passerines the bursa is oval or pear shaped, with a
central cavity. It has a thick wall in the domestic fowl but
is thin and saclike in the psittacines and passerines (King &
McLelland 1984; Schmidt 1997). It reaches maximum size
before sexual maturity and begins to involute at about
23 months. Involution is slower in geese, which do not
reach sexual maturity until 2 years of age.
Stem cells in the yolk sac produce B-lymphocyte pre-
cursors, which then develop in the bursa. The bursa then
seeds other lymphoid organs with B-lymphocytes and is
also necessary for normal thymal development. The bursa
and dependent lymphoid tissue produce antibodies that
are the main defense against invading microorganisms
(Schmidt 1997).
Lymphatic system
Lymphatic vessels are less numerous than in mammals and
usually follow the blood vessels closely (Rose 1981; Payne
1984). Most species have paired thoracic ducts on either
side of the spine that drain the lymph from the hind- limb
and abdominal vessels and deliver it into the jugular veins
at the base of the neck.
Lymphoid nodules are scattered throughout the diges-
tive tract but especially in the oropharynx, the ceca (called
cecal tonsils), and small intestine (Payne 1984; Schmidt
1997).
Spleen
The brownish red spleen lies to the right of the celom
between the proventriculus and ventriculus. It phagocytoses
aged erythrocytes, and aids in lymphopoiesis and in the
production of antibodies. It does not form a significant blood
reservoir, as in mammals, so is relatively small in birds (Rose
1981; Schmidt 1997). It can vary in shape from oval in
pigeons and chickens, to triangular in ducks and geese, to
elongated in the budgie (Dyce et al. 2002; King & McLelland
1984; Schmidt 1997).
RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Birds use their respiratory system not only for gaseous
exchange but also for vocalization and thermoregulation.
The avian respiratory system is unique in that the lungs
are small, undergo little change in volume when breathing,
and have airsacs that act as bellows but do not participate
in gas exchange. This segregation of ventilation and gas
exchange helps to increase the total gas exchange surface
area. The bellows system allows continuous gas flow as
opposed to the in and out tidal flow of mammals. The net
result is that in birds up to 10 times more oxygen can be
absorbed.
Birds have no diaphragm, instead the horizontal septum
separates the lungs from the viscera. This septum plays no
active role in respiration but passively helps to displace the
viscera during breathing.
Nasal cavity
Birds can breathe through their nose or mouth (Powell 2000).
The nasal cavity is compressed laterally and divided medially
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KEY POI NTS
No lymph nodes
Bursa of Fabricius found in immature birds
Spleen does not act as a blood reservoir as in mammals
In ratites the bursa and proctodeum form a single large cavity
which has often been mistaken for a urinary bladder (King, AS
1981a; King & McLelland 1984).
CLINICAL NOTE
Birds do not have lymph nodes, except for ducks and geese,
which have two primitive pairs: a cervicothoracic pair near
the thyroid gland and a lumbar pair near the kidneys (Rose
1981; King & McLelland 1984; Payne 1984).
CLINICAL NOTE
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by a very thin septum. The nasal openings or nares lie later-
ally at the base of the beak, where they can be surrounded
in species like psittacines by a thick cere. Many species also
have a hard, keratinized structure called the operculum at
the center of each nare that acts as a baffle to prevent
inhalation of foreign bodies. Air enters through these nares
into the conchae of the nasal cavity, passes down through
the slitlike choana and across the oropharynx to the glottis
(King & McLelland 1984).
Nasal conchae
The conchae are highly vascular, epithelial folds in the nasal
cavity that increase the surface area over which air flows,
allowing it to be filtered and warmed. They are divided into
rostral, middle, and caudal parts and play a major role in
olfaction, filtering, and thermoregulation (King & McLelland
1984).
Olfactory epithelium in the caudal conchae picks up scent
particles, ciliated epithelium filters out foreign particles,
and mucus secreted by goblet cells flushes these through
the choana into the oropharynx. An extensive network of
blood vessels, the rete mirabile, helps control the water and
heat loss by warming or cooling air entering the nasal cavity.
This helps prevent excessive water loss and is particularly
important in desert and migrating birds.
Infraorbital sinus
This paranasal sinus is particularly well developed in psittacines
and becomes superficial ventromedial to the orbit (Fig.
6.37). It has numerous diverticula, which extend into the
premaxilla, around the ear and rostral orbit, and into the
lower beak. It communicates dorsally with the caudal and
middle conchae and also with the cervicocephalic airsac
at its caudal extent. In some birds (Psittaciformes and
Anseriformes) the right and left sinuses communicate.
Nasal gland
The nasal or salt gland lies just dorsal to the orbit and opens
into the nasal cavity at the level of the rostral concha from
where saline is then sneezed from the nostrils. It secretes a
hypertonic solution enabling seabirds to drink seawater.
The gland is similar to the kidney and has a countercurrent
blood supply which removes sodium ions from the blood-
stream (King & McLelland 1984).
Larynx
The laryngeal opening (or rima glottis) is slitlike and, unlike
in mammmals, is not covered by an epiglottis (Fig. 6.51). It
is usually found at the back of the tongue but is often
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Some birds, like gannets and boobies, have no external nares
but breathe through a narrow gap between the distal upper
and lower beak. This enables them to dive at high speed
without water blowing out of their nostrils (Fig. 6.36).
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 6.36 Juvenile gannet (Sula bassana) showing lack of external
nares.
Nebulization is an excellent way of rehydrating an avian
patient and helps compensate for any evaporative water loss
due to respiratory problems.
CLINICAL NOTE
Conchae
Nares
Part of
infraorbital sinus
2a
2b
1b
1a
1c
1d
1e
1 Infraorbital sinus:
(a)
(b)
(c)
(d)
(e)
Rostral diverticulum
Preorbital diverticulum
Infraorbital diverticulum
Post orbital diverticulum
Mandibular diverticulum
2 Cervicocephalic airsac:
(a)
(b)
Cranial portion
Cervical portion
Figure 6.37 Psittacine skull showing infraorbital sinus which is
particularly well developed in these species.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
obscured by the fleshy tongue in psittacines. There is no
soft palate but the rima glottis regulates the passage of air
by a dilator and constrictor muscle that prevents aspiration
of food material. The larynx plays no role in sound
production (King & McLelland 1984).
Trachea
The trachea is composed of rigid interlocking rings and is
relatively long, given birds size. This is because birds need
long necks to help manipulate objects with their beaks. The
greater air resistance created by elongation means the diameter
of the rima glottis and trachea is wider to compensate
(Hinds & Calder 1971).
In some species the trachea is so long it forms coils; in
the Trumpeter swan these lie in a cavity of the sternum.
Toucans and mynahs have a normal ventral deviation of the
trachea just cranial to the thoracic inlet. In penguins, a median
septum divides it into left and right tubes, making it very
easy to intubate a primary bronchus by mistake (King &
McLelland 1984; Powell 2000).
To compensate for the increased tracheal length, birds
minimize air resistance by having a trachea of wider diameter
than mammals of equivalent size. Birds with tracheal con-
volutions and greater lengths also have wider diameters to
increase total volume. However, this results in birds having
a dead space 4.5 times that of mammals (Hinds & Calder
1971). To overcome this birds have increased tidal volume
and (relative to size) a slower and deeper rate of breathing
(Hinds & Calder 1971). For example, a mammal of 100 g
would have a resting respiration rate of 100 breaths per
minute while in a bird of equivalent size it would be 30 per
minute (Welty 1982b). Birds with long necks, like swans,
breathe as slowly as 10 breaths per minute and the ostrich
has the slowest rate of all birds at 3 to 5 breaths per minute
(Brackenbury 1987).
Syrinx
The syrinx (Greek word for panpipe) is the birds voice
box and is analogous to the mammalian larynx except that
it lacks vocal cords which vibrate with air currents. It is
rudimentary in species like vultures and ostriches (King,
AS 1989).
The syrinx can be classified as tracheal, tracheobronchial
or bronchial depending on location. The most common type
is the tracheobronchial (Fig. 6.39), located at the bifurca-
tion of the trachea, and has a median cartilage called the
pessulus, at the bifurcation. This type is found in psittacines
although they lack a median pessulus.
The syrinx consists of a series of modified tracheo-
bronchial cartilages, two vibrating tympaniform membranes
and muscles which vary the membrane tension. These thin
membranes line the medial and lateral bronchi and sound is
produced during expiration by vibration of air through the
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In psittacines the free communication between the nasal
cavity, infraorbital cavity, skull, and airsacs makes the
treatment and drainage of sinus infections very difficult.
Often the first signs of infection can be swellings rostral and
ventral to the eye where the infraorbital sinus lies superficially
just under the skin and subcutaneous tissues (Fig. 6.38).
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 6.38 Swelling of the infraorbital sinus in psittacines is a
symptom of sinusitis and not an ocular problem.
Trachea
Tympanic cartilages
forming tympanium
Pessulus
Lateral
tympaniform
membrane
Primary
bronchi
Syrinx
Medial
tympaniform
membrane
Figure 6.39 Longitudinal section of tracheobronchial syrinx showing
tympaniform membranes and syringeal cartilages.
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syrinx (King, AS 1989; King & Molony 1971). The sur-
rounding interclavicular airsac gives the voice resonance by
pushing against these membranes. Birds with long coiled
tracheas have deep resonant voices, hence the call of the
Trumpeter swan (Gaunt 1987).
The number of syringeal muscles varies with species.
Despite their great speaking ability parrots have a relatively
simple syringeal apparatus with only three pairs of syringeal
muscles (Evans 1996; Welty 1982b). Hawks have only one
pair while the songbirds have five pairs (King, AS 1989). In
many songbirds the two sides of the syrinx are independ-
ently controlled allowing them, literally, to sing a duet with
themselves (Gaunt 1987; King & McLelland 1984).
Lungs
The avian lungs are far more rigid than mammalian lungs
because they contain more cartilage and are thus less com-
pressible. They are small, compact and spongy and, being
quite dense, occupy less space than mammalian lungs. They
are bright pink in color and closely adherent to the rib cage
dorsally, which leaves furrow marks on the surface. Ventrally
they are lined by the horizontal septum. Due to the absence
of a diaphragm the lungs do not collapse if the celom is
entered via surgery or endoscopy (Fig. 6.40).
Bronchi
Each primary bronchus runs through the whole length of
the lungs (where they are called mesobronchi) and termi-
nates in the caudal airsacs. On entering the lungs each
bronchus then gives rise to four sets of secondary bronchi
named according to the area of the lung they supply:
mediodorsal, medioventral, laterodorsal, and lateroventral
(Fig. 6.44). These terminate in tertiary bronchi called para-
bronchi where blood gas exchange takes place. All bronchi
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As the trachea is narrowed at the site of the syrinx this is a
common site of obstruction by foreign bodies like seeds or
fungal granulomas. Birds exhibiting voice changes should have
the syrinx examined endoscopically. Other common causes
of voice changes can be goiter pressing on the syrinx or
damage to the surrounding interclavicular airsac.
CLINICAL NOTE
Male ducks have modified their tracheal syrinx into an
osseous bulla to give their voice resonance. This can be seen
radiographically near the left side of the thoracic inlet on the
ventrodorsal view and can be used in sexual differentiation in
monomorphic species (Dyce et al. 2002; King, AS 1989).
CLINICAL NOTE
Cervical
Lungs
Clavicular
Cranial thoracic
Abdominal
Caudal thoracic
Figure 6.40 Location of avian lungs and airsacs.
Figure 6.41 Ventrodorsal radiograph of lungs and airsacs in a normal
bird of prey.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
are lined by smooth muscle causing dilation and contraction
(Lasiewski 1972).
Parabronchi
The parabronchi, which can be seen by the naked eye, make
up the bulk of the lung tissue. They have invaginations called
atria which lead to a labyrinth of microscopic air capillaries
extending out to perform gas exchange (Fig. 6.45). These
lie in close proximity to tiny blood capillaries, giving the
lung a highly vascular appearance. The air capillaries are
lined by surfactant, which keeps small cavities open by
lowering surface tension. If this is not present, surface
tension at the airblood interface will collapse the capil-
laries leading to build up of transudate fluid (Lasiewski
1972; Powell 2000).
The number of these tertiary parabronchi increases with
active flight; for example ducks have approximately 1800
whereas the flightless domestic fowl (Gallus gallus) has
only 300 to 500 (Scheid & Piiper 1987).
Most of these parabronchi are a parallel series of hundreds
of tubes called paleopulmonic bronchi. In most birds* there are
also irregular branched parabronchi (neopulmonic bronchi),
which never comprise more than 25% of the parabronchi
(Maina 1996; Powell 2000; Scheid & Piiper 1987). Air flow
through the paleopulmonic is always in the same direction
during inspiration and expiration; however, in the neo-
pulmonic bronchi it is bi-directional according to the phase
of breathing. As no airway valves have been found it is
thought that the shape and alignment of the secondary
bronchi creates a pressure differential between the cranial
and caudal airsacs influencing air flow through the para-
bronchi (Brackenbury 1987; McLelland & Molony 1983;
Scheid & Piiper 1971).
*Some more primitive birds, like the kiwi, penguin,
and emu have only paleopulmonic bronchi and these do
have bi-directional flow (Fedde 1993; King & McLelland
1984).
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On lateral radiographs the tertiary parabronchi are seen
end on and this gives a honeycomb appearance to the lung
(Fig. 6.54). Absence of this normal appearance can indicate
pathology (Smith & Smith 1997).
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 6.42 Ventrodorsal radiographs of lungs and airsacs in a parrot
attacked by a dog, showing fractured femur and hemorrhage in the
thoracic airsacs.
During anesthetics tidal volume may be reduced by as much
as half when the bird is lying on its back. This is due to
compression of the viscera on the caudal air sacs (King &
Payne 1964) (Fig. 6.43). The absence of a diaphragm also
means that, when anesthetized, birds may not breathe
regularly, owing to the lack of sternal muscle contraction.
Ventilation by positive pressure ventilation is always
recommended (Fedde 1993).
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 6.43 Prolonged dorsal recumbency should be avoided during
general anesthetics due to mass of the viscera compressing caudal
airsacs.
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Clavicular
Cranial thoracic
Caudal thoracic
Abdominal
Inspiration
Neopulmonic
parabronchi
Neopulmonic
parabronchi
Paleopulmonic
parabronchi
Paleopulmonic
parabronchi
Clavicular
Cranial thoracic
Caudal thoracic
Abdominal
Expiration
Figure 6.44 Diagram showing air flow
through the respiratory tract of birds during
inspiration and expiration. Air flows in the
same direction from caudal to cranial in both
phases of respiration.
(a)
(b)
Peri-parabronchial
tissue
Parabronchial lumen
Figure 6.45
(a) Cross-section of the tubular parabronchi showing air capillaries where
gas exchange between blood and inhaled air takes place.
(b) Longitudinal section of parabronchi.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Gaseous exchange
Flight and the ability to fly at altitude means that birds have
much higher oxygen demands than mammals. Avian lungs
are 10 times more efficient than mammalian lungs in cap-
turing oxygen due to the following modifications:
Thin bloodgas barrier
The air capillaries of the lung (equivalent to the mammalian
alveoli) are finer and more numerous and the bloodgas
barrier is very thin (Evans 1996; King & Molony 1971;
Scheid & Piiper 1972). In fact, the capillaries are so narrow
it is said the erythrocytes have to line up in single file! This
is possible because, unlike mammalian lungs which have to
expand and contract with every breath, the fixed avian lungs
require little interstitial tissue for added strength. Stronger
fliers like the passerines have a thinner bloodgas barrier than
flightless birds such as chickens (Maina 1989; McLelland &
Molony 1983).
Cross-current blood flow
The blood flow is at right angles to the airflow, giving a
cross-current exchange system. This means that blood flow
is always at right angles no matter which way the air is flowing
(Scheid & Piiper 1972, 1987). Cross-current exchange allows
more efficient absorption of oxygen without incurring high
levels of carbon dioxide in the blood (Fedde 1993; Maina
1989; McLelland & Molony 1983).
One way airflow
The airflow through the lungs is unidirectional as opposed
to the in and out tidal flow of mammals (Scheid & Piiper
1972) (Fig. 6.46). The parabronchi, being tubes and not dead-
end sacs like alveoli, allow for continuous gas exchange in
the avian lung and this may explain why birds can fly at high
altitudes (Maina 1989; Scheid & Piiper 1987; Schmidt-
Nielsen 1975, 1990).
Rigid lung
The fact that the lungs are rigid and play no role in ventila-
tion means that there is 20% more area for gas exchange than
in mammals. However, this rapid efficiency of gas exchange
can have its downside as it makes bird much more suscep-
tible to inhaled toxins and infections.
Airsacs
These are thin (two cells thick), distensible and transparent
sacs, lined by simple squamous epithelium. They constitute
80% of the respiratory volume and extend from the body
cavity into the wing, vertebrae, and leg bones (Lasiewski
1972; Maina 1996). There is little blood supply as they
play no role in gas exchange (Dyce et al. 2002; Fedde 1993).
In most birds there are three pairs of airsacs and two single
ones, creating eight in total (Figs. 6.41 and 6.42). In some
species the cervical sacs are paired, making nine airsacs
(Scheid & Piiper 1987). Each airsac is connected to the
secondary bronchi at an area called an ostium which is
usually located along the ventrolateral border of the lung.
The parabronchi also interconnect with all the airsacs except
the cervical one.
The airsacs are usually divided into two groups according
to their connections to the bronchi: the cranial airsacs
(cervical, clavicular, and cranial thoracic), which connect to
the ventral bronchi, and the caudal airsacs (caudal thoracic
and abdominal), which connect to the primary bronchus
(Fig. 6.44).
Function of airsacs
The airsacs function to create a unidirectional flow of
air through the lungs, which is important for maximizing
oxygen extraction. They help to reduce the amount of heat
produced during flight by evaporation from the airsacs.
They also play a role in sound production, courtship displays
in some species, and possibly cooling of the testes for
spermatogenesis.
Cervical airsac
This lies between the lungs, dorsal to the esophagus and has
vertebral diverticula from C3 T5. It can be paired in some
birds. It also communicates with the skull via the infraor-
bital sinus. It may help to provide buoyancy and insulation
and reduce the point of impact in diving birds.
Clavicular airsac
This lies in the thoracic inlet and has two parts: the
intrathoracic diverticulum around the heart and sternum,
and the extrathoracic, which spreads between the bones of
the pectoral girdle and into the proximal humerus. This sac
extends into the syrinx and is essential for sound
production.
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Mammalian alveolus Avian parabronchus
Figure 6.46 Comparison between mammalian to and fro ventilatory
system via alveoli and the flow through avian system of parabronchi.
Compound fractures of the humerus can introduce infection
via the pneumatic bones into the lungs and airsacs.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Cranial and caudal thoracic airsacs
Both these sacs are paired and lie in sequence in the dorso-
lateral thoracic cage. The caudal thoracic airsacs are the
only ones which lack a connection with pneumatic bones.
Abdominal airsac
This is paired and reaches from the lungs to the cloaca. It
has diverticula around the kidneys and femora. It is poten-
tially the largest in all birds. In the live bird this sac can be
entered during laparoscopy, close to the ostium at the angle
between the lateral border of the ilium and the caudal
border of the dorsal end of the last vertebral rib.
Respiration
Respiration rate
The smaller the bird the faster the respiration rate. It can
vary from 4050 breaths per minute in cockatiels to 2530
in pigeons and 13 in turkeys. The ostrich with 35 breaths
per minute has the slowest rate of all (Brackenbury 1987).
Flying birds increase their respiration rate by 1012 times
above their resting rate, rising to 2030 times with maximum
exertion.
Muscles of respiration
Respiration is controlled by the external and internal inter-
costal and abdominal muscles. Birds have the same abdominal
muscles as in mammals although, as the sternum is so large,
they are smaller. Unlike mammalian ventilation, which takes
one respiratory cycle, it takes two ventilation cycles to move
air right through the avian system. This does not mean the
two cycles are different but that it would take a single bolus
of air two breaths before it can be exhaled (McLelland &
Molony 1983).
Both inspiration and expiration require active muscle
contractions and airflow in the paleopulmonic parabronchi
is always in a caudal to cranial direction.
Inspiration
There are six muscles of inspiration but the principal ones
are the external intercostals and the costosternalis. On inspi-
ration the rib cage moves outwards and the sternum moves
downward. This negative pressure causes air to be sucked in
via the nares to the air sacs. Half of this will enter the caudal
airsac via the neopulmonic bronchi and half will enter the
cranial airsacs via the paleopulmonic bronchi. No air passes
directly into the cranial airsacs (McLelland & Molony 1983).
Expiration
There are nine muscles of expiration, the main ones being
the internal intercostal and the abdominal musculature. On
expiration the rib cage moves upwards, reducing chest size
and compressing air from the airsacs back through the lungs.
Air from the caudal airsacs passes through the paleopul-
monic bronchi into the cranial airsacs. Air from the cranial
airsacs flows out of the primary bronchi and trachea
(McLelland & Molony 1983).
DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
The avian gastrointestinal tract (Figs. 6.52 and 6.53) is rela-
tively short, with low volume to keep the bird lightweight
for flight. Consequently, birds ingest small amounts frequently
and extract energy and nutrients rapidly to sustain their
high metabolic rate. Transit times ranging from as little as
16 minutes to 2 hours are found in passerines. Birds also have
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Birds do not have a diaphragm so the air sacs act like
a bellows to move air through the non-expansile lungs.
This is controlled by the action of the muscles, which act
independently during flight.
HOW DO BIRDS BREATHE?
The good news is that, because the trachea has rigid rings and
the carotid arteries are protected by the cervical vertebrae,
it would be difficult to strangle a bird. The bad news is that
birds can easily asphyxiate by excessive pressure on their
sternum and abdominal muscles, so be careful when handling
them (King & Payne 1964).
CLINICAL NOTE
The avian flow-through system means that artificial ventilation
can be achieved by fresh oxygen down the trachea or via
an airsac cannula if the trachea is obstructed. Manual
compression by compressing and lifting the sternum can
also be undertaken (Powell 2000).
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POI NTS
Birds have no diaphragm.
The trachea is longer and much wider than in mammals,
creating more dead space.
The location of the syrinx at the bifurcation of the trachea
means this is commonly a site for foreign body blockage.
Birds have increased their oxygen absorption by
separating gaseous exchange from ventilation, having
a thin bloodair barrier, cross-current exchange, and
a flow-through system.
Airsacs function solely in ventilation; as they are poorly
vascularized the caudal airsacs easily harbor infections.
Airsac cannulation can be life saving in cases of
obstructive dyspnea.
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an extremely efficient digestive system, passing remarkably
small amounts of excreta in contrast to the amount of food
eaten.
Birds have no teeth so no time is spent on chewing and
food passes rapidly to the crop for storage and into the giz-
zard for mechanical digestion. This heavy organ located at the
birds center of gravity has taken on the role of mammalian
molars in grinding down the unmasticated food. Herbivorous
birds like the ostrich and chicken also have well-developed
ceca for food breakdown.
Beak
The beak (synonym bill) replaces the lips and teeth of
mammals and consists of bone, vascular dermis and a
modified heavily keratinized, germinal layer. The keratin
layer of the beak is called the rhamphotheca, with the
rhinotheca covering the upper beak and the gnathotheca
covering the lower beak. The lower beak slips inside the
upper beak, fitting into a notch on the roof when the jaws
are closed. Soft folds of keratin at the angles of the mouth
form the rictus.
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Macrophages in the parabronchial epithelium filter out a lot
of potential pathogens. The cranial airsacs are consequently
filtered more than the caudal airsacs and this means a disease
like aspergillosis is much more common in the caudal airsacs
(Fedde 1993) (Fig. 6.47).
CLINICAL NOTE
(b)
(a)
Figure 6.47 Radiograph of an African gray parrot with chronic
aspergillosis of thoracic and abdominal airsacs.
(a) Lateral view
(b) Ventrodorsal view
Birds have low fat reserves due to the negative effects of
excess weight. Small birds like budgies and canaries should
not be fasted prior to anesthesia as they have low glycogen
reserves and rapidly become hypoglycemic.
CLINICAL NOTE
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The epithelium has a very thick stratum corneum that
contains hydroxyapatite, calcium, phosphate, and keratin and
gives the beak its hardness. The vascular dermis is extremely
thin and is sandwiched between the horny epidermis above
and the periosteum of the premaxilla and mandible below.
Beak keratin appears in two forms. The weight bearing
horn (tomia) found at the cutting edges and tips of both
beaks performs the function of teeth in cutting up food. A
second covering horn lies externally on the non-contact sur-
face of the beak. Newly hatched chicks have a horny pro-
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Many waterfowl have modified their beak and tongue into a
specialized filter system for sifting out food particles from
water. Ducks, geese, and swans have a thick, fleshy tongue
with the rostral border modified into a scoop with bristles on
the lateral margins. There is a shallow median groove on the
dorsal tongue and a flesh caudal eminence, the torus linguea.
The upper and lower beak have lamellae into which the
bristles fit (Fig. 6.48). Water is sucked in to fill the dorsal
groove in the tongue and this is then pressed against the
palate and filtered laterally by the bristles, which retain the
food particles. In some species the bill tip contains sensory
organs called Herbst corpuscles in the dermis to help
discriminate food particles while feeding (McLelland 1979).
Flamingos have a specialized beak that filters organisms
from the mud or water. At hatching the bill is straight but
develops a bend when the beak matures. The bird feeds with
the bill inverted so that the mandible is uppermost. The
piston-like tongue moves food and water in and the solid
particles are filtered out by the lamellae of the upper and
lower beak (Fig. 6.49).
(a)
(b)
BEAK & TONGUE MODIFICATIONS IN WATERFOWL
Figure 6.48
(a) Beak of duck showing upper and lower lamellae
(b) Tongue of duck showing lateral bristles these bristles press
against the lamellae to filter out the food particles
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jection on the rostral beak called the egg tooth, which is
used to pip the shell.
Cere
The base of the dorsal maxillary rhamphotheca is called the
cere and it can be naked or fully feathered. It is composed
of softer keratin than the rest and is particularly prominent
and fleshy in waterfowl.
Function of the beak
One of the main functions of the beak is to apprehend food
and prepare it for delivery into the esophagus. However,
the beak also has many other roles like preening, courtship,
nest making, and the feeding of chicks. In psittacines the
beak is also used for locomotion and in these species the
beak is connected to the skull by a synovial hingelike joint.
Beaks are widely modified according to diet (Fig. 6.50).
For example, finches have a stout conical bill for cracking
seeds. In some species ridges on the hard palate serve to wedge
the seed in place in order to crack open the shell with the
lower beak. Hummingbirds have a long probing bill to pene-
trate deep into flowers for nectar. Raptors have hooked beaks
for tearing prey while crows have a strong and pointed beak
suited for their omnivorous diet.
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(a) Raven general purpose bill (b) Finch seed cracking (c) Parrot powerful for cracking nuts
(d) Raptor hooked for tearing flesh (e) Duck lamellae for food filtering (f) Hummingbird probing flowers for nectar
Figure 6.50 Modifications of beak according to diet.
(a) Raven general purpose bill
(b) Finch seed cracking
(c) Parrot powerful for cracking nuts
(d) Raptor hooked for tearing flesh
(e) Duck lamellae for food filtering
(f) Hummingbird probing flowers for nectar
Figure 6.49 The flamingo has
a specialized bill that enables it
to filter out its food from the
water.
The male budgie has a blue cere while the hen has a
brownish pink cere. Male budgies however can develop a
brownish cere under the feminizing influences of testicular
Sertoli cell tumors.
CLINICAL NOTE
The powerful beak of psittacines is strong enough to crack
a Brazil nut, so mind your fingers when examining large
parrots.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Role of tongue Type of species Tongue type
Collecting food Woodpeckers, Protrusible
hummingbirds
Manipulating food Parrots, raptors, Short, non-protrusible,
ducks, geese, caudal papillae
swans
Swallowing food Crows, domestic Non-domestic fowl
fowl protrusible, caudal
papillae
Oropharynx
In mammals the glossopalatine arches divide the oral cavity
from the pharynx, and the soft palate divides the nasal cavity
and oral pharynx. Birds, however, only have a common
cavity called the oropharynx, which is often highly colored
in newly hatched passerines to attract the parents attention
while gaping for food (Klasing 1998). The hard palate is
incomplete with a median slit called the choana, which links
the nasal cavity to the oropharynx. This closes when food is
swallowed to stop food entering the nasal cavity (Fig. 6.51).
The oropharynx is lined by stratified squamous epithelium
which is keratinized into papillae that line the oropharynx
along the roof, choanal margins, infundibular cleft, and tongue
to the laryngeal mound. These play a role in helping the
food to pass caudally (King & McLelland 1984).
The infundibular cleft is a midline slitlike opening lying
caudal to the choana, which is the common opening for the
pharyngotympanic tubes (the avian equivalent of eustachian
tubes). In birds these are short and not covered by folds in
order to stop excess pressure building up in the middle ear
when the bird flies (Hoefer et al. 1997; King & McLelland
1984). Lymphatic tissue called the pharyngeal tonsils lie in
this cleft as well. The choana and infundibular cleft have a
common opening in some birds like budgies (Melopsittacus
undulatus) (Dyce et al. 2002).
Tongue
The avian tongue is a highly diverse organ and can be used for
both collecting, manipulating, and swallowing food, depending
on the species (Table 6.4). In most species it is non-protrusible.
It is supported by the hyobranchial (hyoid) apparatus, which
consists of a rostral rod, the entoglossal bone, and a caudal
rod, the rostral basibranchial bone. In most species the tongue
itself is merely cornified mucous membrane covering the
hyoid bone. Psittacines are unique in having paired entoglos-
sal bones and a large muscular tongue capable of amazing
dexterity (King & McLelland 1984).
Birds appear to have a poorly developed sense of taste,
perhaps because of the rapid transit of food from mouth to
crop. Taste buds are few in number and located on the palate,
the base of the tongue, and the floor of oropharynx (see
Senses).
Salivary glands
Birds have practically a layer of salivary glands scattered
throughout the oropharynx. These are not well defined but
there are small aggregates of maxillary and palatine glands
in the roof of the mouth, and mandibular and lingual glands
on the floor. Avian saliva is very different to the water secre-
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Figure 6.51 Open mouth view showing choana, glottis and triangular
tongue.
Many psittacines with Vitamin A deficiency develop blunted
choanal papillae due to squamous metaplasia. These block
salivary ducts and cause secondary bacterial infection; hence
abscesses are commonly seen under the tongue and around
the choana.
CLINICAL NOTE
When performing crop lavage under anesthetic it is important
to block off the choana as well as inserting an endotracheal
tube to avoid food entering the nasal cavity.
CLINICAL NOTE
Table 6.4 Tongue types and functions (King & McLelland 1984)
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tions of mammals as it is more mucoid to help lubricate
food. Production of saliva is under the control of parasym-
pathetic stimulation and is especially well developed in birds
that eat a lot of dry food, such as insects or seeds (Duke
1986, 1993; Hoefer et al. 1997).
Feeding
The beak prehends the food, which is then lubricated by
sticky mucus produced from the salivary glands. The lack
of soft palate and pharyngeal muscles means that birds do
not use peristalsis for swallowing. Instead papillae on the
tongue and palate and rostrocaudal movement of the tongue
moves the food into the caudal oropharynx. The head is
then raised to let the food move passively, the glottis and
choana close over and food gets flushed by the saliva into
the proximal esophagus. From there it moves by peristaltic
action down the gastrointestinal tract (Duke 1986, 1993;
Hill 1971b; McLelland 1979).
Drinking
The beak is immersed in water and fluid enters the mouth
by rostrocaudal movement of the tongue. Once in the
caudal oropharynx the head is raised and it passes into the
esophagus by gravity. Pigeons manage to suck water and do
not have to raise their head while drinking; hummingbirds
suck nectar through a tubular tongue. Psittacines can lap water
due to their muscular tongue (King & McLelland 1984;
McLelland 1979).
Esophagus
The esophagus lies to the right side of the neck, is thin walled
and has longitudinal folds, which enables it to be more dis-
tensible than in mammals. It is lined by stratified squamous
epithelium with mucous glands to aid the passage of food
down the tract. It contains only smooth muscles innervated
by the vagus nerve, so excitement or fear can influence
motility. Paralysis of the esophagus can occur in heavy metal
poisoning causing stasis and impaction.
Regurgitation
This is when food is brought back by antiperistaltic move-
ment of the esophagus. It is normal in species like pigeons
and penguins while they are nursing neonates and is also
used for sexual display in species like budgies.
Crop (Ingluvies)
This is a dilation of the esophagus located at the base of the
neck just cranial to the thoracic inlet. It has the same
epithelial structure as the esophagus but no mucus glands
(Hill 1971a; King & McLelland 1984). In psittacines it is
placed transversely and is easy to palpate as it is strongly
attached to skin. The crop of pigeons is well developed and
bilobed whereas waterfowl have a barely visible fusiform
widening of the esophagus (Fig. 6.55).
The function of the crop in birds like psittacines and
pigeons is to store food when the stomach is full (Evans
1996). In some birds, such as domestic fowl, harder food
like grain is softened in the crop before traveling on to the
proventriculus for physical digestion. In species like owls,
gulls, and penguins, which have no crop, food is either stored
in the esophagus or passes directly into the proventriculus.
Food like fish can often be seen stretching from the
proventriculus and sticking out of the beak in piscivorous
birds without causing any choking or discomfort (Klasing
1998).
There is little chemical digestion in the esophagus and
crop although salivary amylase may initiate carbohydrate
digestion. The crop pH is acidic (46). It contains some
gram-positive bacteria and a small amount of Candida
species.
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In some birds like woodpeckers the hyoid horns are so
elongated they go completely around the back of the skull,
ending near the upper maxilla. This enables the woodpecker
to protrude their tongue over four times the length of the
upper beak to catch insects. Woodpeckers also have large
mandibular glands beneath the tongue that secrete a sticky
fluid to coat the tongue and act like flypaper to trap insects.
GENERAL INTEREST
Swifts secrete a mucilaginous substance from their mandibular
glands, which is used like cement for their nests. In the Collocalia
swift species of SE Asia the nest is built entirely of saliva and
forms the gourmet Asian dish of birds nest soup (King &
McLelland 1984; McLelland 1979).
GENERAL INTEREST
The Hoatzin bird uses its extensive crop as a gizzard to help
physically digest the leaves it feeds on. In these species the
mass of the crop is 50 times that of the gizzard (Evans 1996;
McLelland 1979).
GENERAL INTEREST
Crop impaction can be caused by ingesting large amounts
of dry food. In raptors it can be blocked by the fur and
feathers of prey if there is inadequate moisture in the diet
(King & McLelland 1984).
CLINICAL NOTE
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Crop milk
Columbiformes produce crop milk to feed their young in
the first few days after hatching. This is stimulated by
prolactin and resembles milk, except it has no carbohydrate
or calcium. It is produced in both sexes by desquamating
cells from the stratified squamous epithelium of the crop
and lasts until about 2 weeks after hatching. Psittacines,
finches and Emperor penguins also produce crop secretions
(McLelland 1979).
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Cere
Jugular vein
Common carotid artery
Trachea
Crop
Thyroid gland
Syrinx
Heart
Coracoid
Supracoracoideus
Ribs
Supraduodenal loop
Pancreas
Caudal vena cava
Lung
Left lobe of liver Right lobe of liver
Ventriculus (gizzard)
Duodenum
Vent
Cloaca
Pectoralis
Esophagus
Right
brachiocephalic trunk Left pectoral trunk
Figure 6.52 Ventral view of psittacine showing viscera (sternum and abdominal muscles removed). The lungs lie dorsally so are not very visible.
The avian esophagus is very distensible so large tubes can be
passed when gavage feeding to prevent the risk of accidental
intubation of the trachea. For crop sampling, pass a tube into
the crop and infuse some warm physiological saline. Aspirate
a sample back and perform a wet smear and diagnostic
cytology.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Stomach
In birds the stomach is divided into the glandular proven-
triculus and the muscular ventriculus (gizzard) divided by
an isthmus. There are two types of stomach according to
the diet of the species (Denbow 2000).
Carnivorous birds
These fish and meat eating species have little difference
between the two stomachs, having a large easily distensible
stomach to contain whole prey. The ventriculus in these species
is used mainly for allowing time for gastric juices to act on the
soft food rather than physical digestion (McLelland 1979).
Granivorous birds
These birds eat relatively indigestible foods so need a gizzard
for grinding food. Consequently they have a thick-walled,
non-distensible, and glandular proventriculus and a thick,
muscular ventriculus (Figs. 6.56 and 6.57). Proventriculectomy
is not easy in these species.
Proventriculus
This is the glandular portion of the stomach and its main
function is production of the gastric juices and propulsion
of food into the gizzard. It has two cell populations: epithelial
cells that produce mucus and oxynticopeptic cells, which
produce pepsinogen and hydrochloric acid (Denbow 2000;
Hill 1971a). It lies to the left of the midline in the cran-
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Esophagus
Trachea
Left jugular
vein
Left common
carotid
Subclavian and pectoral
artery and vein
Crop
Supracoracoideus
Sternum (cut)
Pectoralis
Left lobe of liver
Heart
Lung
Base of abdominal
air sacs
Kidney
Proventriculus
Duodenal loop
Ventriculus (gizzard)
Pancreas
Cloaca
Supraduodenal
loop
Figure 6.53 Lateral view of psittacine showing lungs and viscera.
Figure 6.54 Lateral radiograph showing normal honeycomb lungs,
gizzard located at level of acetabuli and large pectoral muscle mass. This
bird had renomegaly secondary to lymphoma.
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iodorsal celom and is covered by other abdominal organs and
the post-hepatic septum. There is no distinct esophageal
sphincter and the loss of longitudinal folds is the only differing
feature between esophagus and stomach.
Isthmus (Intermediate zone)
This is the transition from glandular stomach to muscular
gizzard. It has no glands so the wall is thinner and less rigid
than the proventriculus.
Ventriculus (Gizzard)
The ventriculus lies to the left of the midline and can be pal-
pated as a firm mass just caudal to the sternum (Fig. 6.54).
This second stomach is the site of protein digestion and
mechanical breakdown of food and consists of a large volume
of smooth muscle lined internally by columnar epithelium.
Koilin lines this epithelium like a cuticle and helps protect
it during the grinding process. It is formed from mucosal
cell secretions and is composed of protein and carbohy-
drate and becomes stained yellow-green due to bile reflux
from the duodenum (Denbow 2000).
Herbivores (granivores) like turkeys and waterfowl tend
to have a very developed ventriculus but it is less muscular
in psittacine species that dehusk their seeds prior to swal-
lowing (Klasing 1998; McLelland 1979).
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(a)
(b)
(c)
Esophagus
Craniodorsal
(thin muscle)
Caudodorsal
(thick muscle)
Caudoventral
(thin muscle)
Cranioventral
(thick muscle)
Tendinous
center
Duodenum
Isthmus
Proventriculus
Esophagus
Craniodorsal
(thin muscle) Caudodorsal
(thick muscle)
Caudal blind sac
Duodenum
Isthmus
Proventriculus
Entrance
to pyloris
Cuticle
Opening into
duodenum
Cranial sac
Figure 6.55 The shape of the crop depends on the birds diet.
(a) Waterfowl simple and fusiform
(b) Parrots seed can be softened here prior to passing into the
ventriculus
(c) Pigeons well developed and bilobed for softening grain and
production of crop milk
Figure 6.56 External appearance of ventriculus (gizzard) in granivorous
bird showing well-developed grinding muscles.
Figure 6.57 Cross-section of ventriculus of granivorous bird.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
The ventriculus has four muscular bands arranged so as
to provide rotary and crushing movements to aid mechanical
digestion. These consist of two thick layers of circular, smooth
muscles that attach to a central tendinous aponeurosis on
the left and right. They are dark colored due to the high
myoglobin content of the smooth muscle. Cranially and
caudally there are blind sacs formed by two layers of paler,
thin muscles (King & McLelland 1984).
Food moves back and forth between proventriculus and
ventriculus by contraction of the thick and thin muscles during
stomach digestion. The opening of the duodenum lies very
close to the proventriculus so that food not requiring grinding
can bypass the gizzard completely.
Intestinal reflux
Intestinal reflux (also called egestion or casting) is performed
by carnivores like Strigiformes (owls) and Falconiformes
and is the method used to void indigestible portions from
the ventriculus. It occurs due to synchronized contractions
of the proventriculus, ventriculus, and duodenum about
12 hours post feeding. The presence of bulky food items in
the stomach causes gastric contractions to increase and
compact the pellet and push it into the distal esophagus.
During reflux, gastric motility is inhibited and the pellet is
expelled through the mouth by esophageal antiperistalsis.
The content and timing of the pellet depends on the birds
feeding habits. Owls eat their prey whole and have no crop
for storage, so they egest bone as well as the usual roughage
of feathers and fur after every meal. Falconiformes tear their
food apart with their talons and, having crops, hold the
food for longer and digest all the bone portion. They egest
just once daily or at dawn as part of the circadian rhythm
(McLelland 1979).
Pylorus
This lies to the right of the ventriculus. It is small in chickens
but very large and dilated in cormorants and herons, perhaps
to delay indigestible debris like fish bones for longer before
entering the duodenum.
Liver
The liver is yellow color in a newborn chick because of the
high fat content resulting from the absorption of yolk
(McLelland 1979). This changes to the usual red-brown at
around 10 days of age. It is proportionately large for the birds
size, compared to mammals. There are two main liver lobes,
which surround the heart and join cranially at the midline.
Some lobes are frequently subdivided. The liver is covered
by a fat-filled post-hepatic septum. There is a well-developed
hepatic portal circulation and the caudal vena cava enters the
dorsal portion of the right lobe. The gall bladder lies on the
visceral surface of the right lobe (King & McLelland 1984).
The gall bladder is absent in some Psittaciformes, Columbi-
formes, and Struthioniformes (Bezuidenhout 1999; Evans
1996). In these species the bile flows from the right liver lobe
to the ascending duodenum via the hepatoenteric duct.
Bile is important for avian digestion as it aids the emulsi-
fication of fats and also contains amylase and lipase. Many
birds lack the enzyme bilirubin reductase so biliverdin is the
main bile pigment (McLelland 1979). The liver synthesizes
bile acids and empties them directly into the duodenum
where they are reabsorbed and sent back to liver by entero-
hepatic circulation. Therefore, hepatic malfunction can be
measured by raised bile acids.
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The ventriculus can be the site of foreign bodies so, if one has
to be removed, the blind thin muscular sacs cranially and
caudally are the best site for ventriculectomy incisions.
Waterfowl can also pick up lead weight which can be ground
down by the contractions causing the lead to be absorbed.
CLINICAL NOTE
Psittacine and passerine species do not require grit for
digestion as they crack open seeds and eat only the kernels.
Chickens and pigeons swallow their seed whole and grind
them in their gizzard using grit. Although grit is not essential
in these species it markedly reduces gut transit times.
Coarser food will require coarse grit (Duke 1986, 1993;
Hoefer et al. 1997; McLelland 1979).
CLINICAL NOTE
A bird with liver problems will often pass urates stained green
by the bile pigment biliverdin. Raised bile acid can also be a
good indicator of hepatic disease.
CLINICAL NOTE
Some birds like Mynah birds and toucans store high levels of
iron in their hepatocytes, leading to hemochromatosis or iron
storage disease. The cause is unknown but it can be treated
by recurrent phlebotomies to remove excess iron and by
feeding a diet low in citrus fruits.
CLINICAL NOTE
The pulverizing action of the gizzard muscles is immensely
powerful. In some bizarre medieval experiments performed
on turkeys it was found that the gizzard could crush 24
walnuts in their shells in under 4 hours and turn 16 surgical
lancets into grit in 16 hours!
GENERAL INTEREST
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Pancreas
This is pale pink and lies within the antimesenteric border
of the duodenal loop. It is composed of three lobes with one
to three ducts that secrete the pancreatic enzymes into the
ascending duodenum near the bile ducts. As in mammals, this
gland has both endocrine and exocrine functions. It secretes
the enzymes amylase, lipase, trypsin, and chymotrypsin and
these help the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, proteins,
and bicarbonate. These are produced under the control of the
hormone secretin and the vagus nerve (King & McLelland
1984).
Small intestine
In general, the small intestine is relatively shorter than in
mammals but it is highly convoluted to help with birds
high metabolic demands. It is separated from the body wall
by the caudal thoracic and abdominal airsacs. There is very
little histological difference between the duodenum, ileum,
and jejunum, which form a series of narrow u-shaped loops
on the right side of the celom (McLelland 1979). The axial
loop carries the Meckel diverticulum and marks the boundary
between the ileum and jejunum, while the supraduodenal
loop is the most distal part of the ileum (Evans 1996; King
& McLelland 1984).
The bile and pancreatic ducts open into the distal part of
the ascending duodenum opposite the cranial part of the
gizzard. The jejunum and ileum are demarcated by the yolk
sac remnant, the Meckel diverticulum. Altricial birds are
fed by their parents so absorb the yolk sac speedily after
hatching. Precocial birds have to fend for themselves from
early on so rely on the yolk sac for nourishment during this
period. It is normally absorbed from 10 days post hatching,
leaving scar tissue behind.
The intestines are thin walled and narrow and consist of
mucosa, submucosa, circular and longitudinal muscle, and
serosa. The intestinal epithelium has folds and villi but, unlike
in mammals, does not contain lacteals (Hill 1971a; McLelland
1979). Instead they absorb lipids through a well-developed
capillary network. Three types of epithelial cell exist: chief
cells, goblet cells, and endocrine cells. The chief cells have
a brush border to absorb food, the goblet cells secrete mucus,
and endocrine cells produce the hormones somatostatin,
gastrin, and secretin. Although birds lack true mesenteric
lymph nodes they have lymphoid nodules (Peyer patches)
in the lamina propria to provide lymph drainage.
Large intestines
There is a short colorectum, which extends from the ileo-
cecal junction to the cloaca. The colon is no thicker than
the small intestine and reabsorbs water and electrolytes by
antiperistaltic movements (Duke 1993). Urine is moved
from the cloaca into the colon by this method.
Ceca
These are paired and arise at the junction of the ileum with
the rectum. They run retrograde from the ileocecal junction
with their blind end lying near the cloaca.
The mucosa has villi and there are scattered lymph folli-
cles in the wall. The main function of the cecum is to aid the
digestion of cellulose so they are most prominent in ground
dwelling, flightless birds like ostriches and fowl (Bezuidenhout
1999; Hill 1971b). They are poorly developed in most arbo-
real birds, being rudimentary in pigeons and passerines and
absent in raptors and psittacines (Duke 1993; Evans 1996;
King & McLelland 1984). In fact more than two thirds of birds
either have no ceca or have rudimentary ones (Klasing 1998).
Role of intestines and cecum
The small intestine is the principal site for chemical diges-
tion. If ceca are present they contain gram-positive bacteria
and protozoa which help to digest cellulose in herbivorous
species.
Cecotrophy
Some species use cecotrophy to help survival on rough forage.
Food passes down the intestines to the coprodeum by peri-
stalsis. Occasionally an unknown mechanism returns the
ingesta by retroperistalsis back up to the cecum. The long
villi in the cecum separate the nutrient-rich food from the
indigestible portion. High nutrient particles are absorbed and
the rest is passed distally in a powerful cecal contraction to
re enter the cloaca as cecal droppings. These semi-solid,
chocolate-brown droppings are normally discharged about
once a day (Duke 1986, 1993).
Cloaca
This is the site for termination of the urogenital and diges-
tive systems. It is usually a bell-shaped dilation at the end
of the rectum and consists of the copradeum, urodeum,
and proctodeum (King, AS 1981a). The Bursa of Fabricius
is located in the dorsal wall. The cloaca lies in the midline
in mature males but in mature females the enlarged left
oviduct pushes it to the right.
Coprodeum
This cranial compartment is where the rectum empties. This
largest chamber is an extension of the colon. In some species
it is lined by villi and is a site of water absorption. It is sepa-
rated from the urodeum by the coprourodeal fold. If the
rectum is full of feces this fold can bulge out of the vent dis-
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The duodenum is easily seen on exploratory and necropsy as
it lies most ventrally caution must be taken to avoid incising
it when entering the celomic cavity.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
pelling feces without mixing them with urates. This fold can
also close the coprodeum during egg laying to prevent feces
being expelled at the same time (King & McLelland 1984).
Urodeum
This middle compartment is separated from the other
parts by the circular mucosal folds. The ureters and genital
ducts empty into its dorsal wall. The left oviduct opens
into a small mound, which is covered by a small membrane
in ducks, geese, and swans until the bird reaches sexual
maturity. In male passerines the terminal vas deferens dilates
during the breeding season to form a conical projection in
the cloaca called the seminal glottus or cloacal promontory
(Lake 1981).
Proctodeum
This is a short compartment separated from the urodeum
by the uroproctodeal fold. It empties contents into the
vent, which is controlled by the external anal sphincter.
The Bursa of Fabricius is located in its dorsal wall. It is the
site of B-lymphocyte production and differentiation, which
are necessary for humoral immunity. Male ducks, geese,
and swans have a large proctodeum to house the large pro-
trusible phallus on the ventral floor.
Vent
This is the external opening of the cloaca. In psittacines
this is a circular opening, but it is transverse in domestic
fowl and u-shaped in ducks and geese. The sphincter
muscle has an outer and inner circle of striated muscle.
There is also a transverse muscle that originates from the
pelvic bone, passes ventral to the proctodeum, and helps
pull the vent into position for copulation.
URINARY SYSTEM
This consists only of the kidneys and ureters as, in keeping
with weight reduction, birds have no bladder. The ureter
terminates in the urodeum of the cloaca.
Kidneys
The kidneys are paired and lie retroperitoneally in the
ventral (renal) fossa of the synsacrum. In this region they
are intimately associated with the lumbar and sacral plexus
nerves and blood vessels that pass through the substance of
the kidney itself.
The kidneys are relatively large and extend from the caudal
synsacrum cranially as far as the lungs. In most species they
are roughly divided into cranial, middle, and caudal parts by
the external iliac and ischiadic branches of the abdominal
aorta. In passerines the middle portion often appears to be
lacking (Johnson, OW 1979). Some species like penguins
and herons have a fused caudal kidney in the midline (King
& McLelland 1984).
The anatomy of the avian kidney is confusing in compari-
son to the logical lobule structure of the mammalian kidney
(Siller 1983). This is because the avian kidney does not have
a distinct demarcation between the cortex and medulla and
there is no renal pelvis. Instead the ureter runs along the
ventral side of the kidney and branches into collecting ducts
that each drain a lobule, consisting of a large area of cortical
tissue and a small cone of medullary tissue (Shoemaker
1972). The cortical tissue contains both types of nephron
while the medullary cone only contains the loops of Henle,
collecting ducts, and the vasa recta capillary network (King
& McLelland 1984).
Nephrons
The basic unit is the nephron, as in mammals, but birds show
a compromise between reptiles and mammals and have two
types of nephron. The cortical nephrons resemble those in
reptiles and the medullary nephrons resemble their mam-
malian counterparts (Johnson, OW 1979; Siller 1971).
Cortical nephrons
These are the most numerous (about 90%) and are confined
to the cortical region of the kidney. They excrete uric acid
by filtering it through the glomeruli and secreting it into the
proximal convoluted tubules. They have no loop of Henle.
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KEY POI NTS
Modifications of the avian gastrointestinal tract:
Teeth replaced by horny beak
No soft palate so single large oropharynx
Open pharyngotympanic (eustachian) tubes
Esophagus is on the right side of the neck and length and
diameter are greater than in mammals
Lots of mucoid saliva produced to lubricate food
Crop stores and softens food
Two stomachs proventriculus for chemical digestion
and ventriculus for grinding
Oxynticopeptic cells in stomach produce hydrochloric
acid and pepsinogen
Columbiformes and Galliformes require grit to help grind
down hard food
Biliverdin is the main bile pigment of birds hence green
urates with liver problems
Cloaca is the common termination of digestive and
urogenital tracts
The spinal nerves of the lumbar and sacral plexuses run
through the kidney parenchyma. This is why many renal
conditions like tumors can first present as a lameness
problem.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Medullary nephrons
These nephrons are also located in the cortical region but
have their loop of Henle in the medullary region. It is these
that are responsible for forming and concentrating the urine.
Birds from arid region tend to have more of these nephrons.
Renal blood supply
The kidneys have a dual afferent blood supply. The high-
pressure cranial, middle, and caudal renal arteries subdivide
into the afferent glomerular arteries which provide the
glomerular filtrate (Johnson, OW 1979). This is influenced
by the state of hydration and arginine vasotocin produced
from the posterior pituitary gland (Shoemaker 1972).
The external iliac vein, which drains the pelvic limb,
branches to form the common iliac vein and caudal renal
portal vein (Fig. 6.33). This renal portal vein provides two
thirds of the renal blood flow to the kidneys and supplies
the proximal convoluted tubules that are responsible for
the secretion of urates (King & McLelland 1984; Orosz et
al. 1997). Glomerular filtration does not clear urates so it
is thought that the renal portal vein plays a significant role
in the elimination of these (Siller 1971).
The renal portal system has a unique smooth muscle valve
lying at the junction of the common iliac and renal veins
(Siller 1983). This has a rich nerve supply and controls the
amount of venous blood entering the kidneys. Normally this
valve remains closed, allowing venous blood from the hind-
limbs and pelvic region to enter the kidney and take part
in tubular secretion and resorption. In emergencies, high
sympathetic activity stimulates the release of adrenaline
(epinephrine), which opens the valve to divert blood away
from the kidney to the heart and brain (Johnson, OW 1979;
Siller 1971). This can take three routes: first via the open
valve directly into the caudal vena cava; via the cranial portal
vein to the internal vertebral venous plexus, or via the
coccygeal mesenteric vein to the hepatic portal vein and
liver (Akester 1971; Siller 1983; West et al. 1981).
Ureter
The ureters have a branched network throughout the kidney
parenchyma, terminating in the collecting ducts of each lobule.
These are lined by pseudostratified columnar epithelium,
which secretes mucus to help the urates pass down (Siller
1971). It often appears whitish due to the urate content
inside. The ureter opens into the dorsal wall of the urodeum
as there is no urinary bladder or urethra in birds. Urine and
urates reach the cloaca and go by retroperistalsis into the
rectum and colon where there is mixing with feces and
reabsorption of water. The cloaca therefore plays a role in
avian osmoregulation (Johnson, OW 1979; Phalen 2000;
Sykes 1971).
Nasal gland
All birds have nasal or salt glands located above the eye that
are distinct from Harderian and lacrimal glands. In marine
species these are well developed and function as salt glands
to enable them to drink seawater and excrete the excess
salt. These glands also play a role in water conservation in birds
from arid climates (Evans 1996; Maina 1996). They are
similar to renal tissue, using a system of countercurrent blood
flow to remove salt from the bloodstream and pass it down
from the nasal passage to be sneezed out of the nostrils. The
ostrich, cormorant, duck, goose, falcon, gull, and penguin
all have functioning salt glands. They tend to be absent or
vestigial in passerine species (Shoemaker 1972).
Osmoregulation
Most birds gain water by drinking or eating succulent foods
like fruit, nectar or meat. Some birds from arid climates
(e.g., the Zebra finch) can produce metabolic water instead and
conserve water by producing scant urine (Goldstein 2000).
Desert birds produce only 55% water in their excrement
whereas birds with plentiful access to water provide 7590%
water (Orosz et al. 1997). They also conserve water by
cooling warm air as it passes through the nares.
Urine
Avian urine is the semi-solid product of the kidneys which,
on standing, separates out into a white precipitate (urates)
and supernatant fluid (urine). Birds have the ability to con-
centrate their urine but it is less developed than in mammals.
Urine is produced by the glomerular filtrate and 90% is
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As birds have fewer loops of Henle they have decreased
ability to concentrate their urine much above blood levels.
As a consequence, seabirds, which have a high salt intake,
have to rely on extra renal structures called salt glands.
CLINICAL NOTE
Nasal glands will atrophy if not exposed to salt so this may
need to be provided when seabirds are being rehabilitated
back to the wild.
CLINICAL NOTE
Migratory birds often fly for over 72 hours without drinking.
Dehydration is prevented because high altitudes prevent
evaporative water loss and metabolic water is produced
from fat stores. Flying by night also helps to conserve water
when the air is cooler.
GENERAL INTEREST
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
reabsorbed by the tubules (Phalen 2000). Like in mammals,
therefore, the major control of urine output is tubular
resorption.
Uric acid
Birds, like reptiles, are uricotelic meaning they excrete 60%
of their nitrogenous waste in the form of chalky white urates.
Urea is formed only as a by-product of detoxification in the
kidney and, to a lesser extent, in the liver. The excretion of
urates requires less water but the main advantage to birds
is that the developing embryo in the egg is able to produce
an insoluble waste product, leaving the water fraction free
to be reabsorbed (King & McLelland 1984; Sykes 1971).
Uric acid is synthesized in the liver and excreted in the
kidney by glomerular filtration (10%) but mainly tubular
secretion (90%) (Goldstein 2000; Phalen 2000). Urates are
also produced independently of urine flow, being secreted
by the reptilian-style cortical nephrons and so will still be
produced even by very dehydrated birds (Phalen 2000).
Gout
Gout is not a disease but a symptom of hyperuricemia or
kidney damage. If the proximal renal tubules are damaged
uric acid cannot be excreted, so urate levels rise. As the rate
of excretion of urates is relatively independent of glomerular
filtration, high levels of urates can be produced even in dehy-
drated birds. However, if they cannot be flushed out by the
kidney they will precipitate causing renal gout. High blood
uric acid levels will also cause gout in joints and organs such
as the kidneys, spleen, and pericardium (Fig. 6.58).
REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
Reproduction in the bird follows a definite breeding cycle
that is controlled by environmental factors like photoperiod,
food availability, and temperature. In temperate climates the
trigger factor is the increasing daylight of spring whereas in
arid climates the advent of the rainy season bringing increas-
ing food supplies stimulates the gonads to develop (Millam
1997). In order to minimize weight the gonads enlarge for
the breeding season and become small and dormant at the
end of the season (Evans 1996). In some species this can be
dramatic; for example, the gonads of the starling (Sturnus
vulgaris) increase 1500 times in size during the breeding
season (Maina 1996).
The pineal gland is thought to be the center of the com-
plex reproductive and migratory avian clock. However, the
main detector of increasing daylight lies not in the eyes or
pineal gland but in the hypothalamus. Here photoreceptors
release gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) via the
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Prior to egg laying, parathyroid hormone (PTH) demineralizes
medullary bone to allow calcium to be deposited in the egg
yolk and shell. The excess phosphate is excreted via the
kidneys causing diuresis. Hence, many hens become polyuric
prior to egg laying.
CLINICAL NOTE
Dehydration in birds is serious as it can rapidly lead to
irreversible gout. Urea levels can be monitored to estimate
dehydration, but 70% of the kidney needs to be damaged
before you get elevated blood uric acid levels. Carnivorous
birds like birds of prey must also be fasted for 24 hours to
avoid false positives.
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 6.58 Articular gout in a budgie showing dorsal nodules of white
crystalline tophi.
Kidneys have more medullary nephrons to concentrate
urine (Johnson, OW 1979)
Salt glands excrete excess sodium
Absorption from coprodeum and colon
Vascular network in nasal cavity (rete mirabili) to cool
incoming air
Behavioral adaptation
ADAPTATIONS MADE BY BIRDS IN ARID ENVIRONMENTS
KEY POI NTS
No renal pelvis or bladder
Dual afferent blood supply
Two forms of nephron cortical and medullary
Uricotelic production of urates excreted by renal portal
system
Nasal salt glands in marine species
Production of urates means even mild dehydration or
renal damage predisposes to gout
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bloodstream to the pituitary gland. In birds two forms of
GnRH are released but the exact demarcation of functions
is still under research (Millam 1997). This then stimulates
the production of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and
lutropin luteinizing hormone (LH), which trigger gonado-
genesis and breeding (Kirby & Froman 2000).
Once breeding is finished the shorter days of summer
stimulate resorption of gonadal tissue and allows time for
molting. Under the influences of prolactin and the pineal
gland migratory species lay down fat and increase food intake.
The short days of winter then inhibit the gonads, allowing
them to be stimulated again in the spring.
Birds differ from mammals in that the female is het-
erogametic, being ZW, and the male is homogametic, being
ZZ. This means the sex of future offspring is decided after
ovulation and not after fertilization.
Male
Testes
The bean-shaped testes are paired and lie near the cranial
pole of the kidney, just caudal to the adrenal glands. Medially,
the testes lie close to the aorta and the caudal vena cava.
Each testicle is suspended by a short mesorchium and is
surrounded medially by the abdominal airsac. The left testis
tends to be larger than the right in immature birds (King &
McLelland 1984) (Fig. 6.60).
The testes are under the influence of FSH and LH and
the dimensions can increase dramatically with sexual activity.
In the non-breeding season the testes shrink to almost
nothing and may be hard to visualize. The dormant testes
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Many birds and especially psittacines are monomorphic,
making it difficult to distinguish gender. The following
methods can be used:
External secondary sexual characteristics Fowl have
some useful sex-linked color/feather traits exploited by
commercial chicken farms for rapid sexing. Male budgies
have a blue cere (Fig. 6.59) while the hen has a brown
cere. The male Eclectus parrot is vivid green but the hen
is mainly red.
Vent sexing This was the traditional method used in
poultry farming. Day old chicks were sexed by everting
the lip of the vent to expose this tiny genital region.
This appears rounded in the male chick and conical in
females.
Surgical sexing This involves direct visualization of the
gonads by laparoscopy into the left abdominal airsac
under anesthetic.
DNA analysis of blood.
SEXING BIRDS
Figure 6.59 Cock budgie (Melopsittacus undulatus) showing blue
cere.
Breeding Non-breeding
Testes
Left adrenal
gland
Ureters
Kidneys
Vas deferens
Seminal
glomus
Large
intestine
Coprodeum
Urodeum
Proctodeum
Cloaca
Vent
Ureter
openings
Figure 6.60 Ventral view of male passerine urogenital tract. The right
side shows the large breeding testes and seminal glomus while the left side
shows the dormant non-breeding testes.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
are light brown to yellow in color, turning white when the
bird becomes sexually active. In some psittacine species,
like cockatoos (Cacatua spp.) and macaws (Ara spp.), the
immature or dormant testes can even appear black due to
melanocytes located in the interstitium of the testes.
The testes consist of seminiferous tubules, which produce
the sperm from the epithelium. The interstitial or Leydig
cells lie meshed between the seminiferous tubules and,
under the influence of LH, produce the main androgens:
testosterone and androstenedione (Kirby & Froman 2000;
Lake 1981). These hormones provide the secondary sex
characteristics like coloration and song during courtship.
The tunica albuginea is much thinner than in mammals
and there is no pampiniform plexus. The epididymis is smaller
and less developed as sperm maturation occurs in the vas
deferens and not, as in mammals, in the epididymis. The
vas deferens is closely associated with the ureter in the dor-
somedial midline celom but is distinguished from it by its
zig-zag appearance. It enters the dorsal wall of the urodeum.
There are no accessory sexual glands.
Phallus
When present, the avian phallus is solely reproductive and
becomes engorged by lymph fluid instead of blood during
erection (Kirby & Froman 2000). Owing to the lack of acces-
sory sex glands, avian semen has low volume (e.g., the
cockerel has an ejaculate of only 0.51 ml) but some lymph
may contribute to the seminal fluid (Lake 1981). Sperm
remains viable in the female tract for much longer than in
mammals and may survive for 5 or 6 days.
Absence of phallus
Psittacines, passerines, pigeons and birds of prey all have no
phallus. These species copulate by transferring semen from
the everted cloaca directly into the female oviduct (King,
AS 1981b).
Non-protrusible phallus
A rudimentary non-protrusible phallus is seen in male turkeys
and chickens and lies on the ventral lip of the vent. It
consists of a small median tubercle intimately associated on
each side with lymphatic folds and vessels. When erected
with lymph the phallus develops a median groove which
permits passage of ejaculate down into the everted female
oviduct (King, AS 1981b; King & McLelland 1984).
Protrusible phallus
The protrusible phallus is elongated and capable of true intro-
mission into the female cloaca and is seen in ratites and
Anseriformes. The latter have a curved fibrous phallus that
conveys semen via a spiral groove. The distal end lies enclosed
in a cavity on the floor of the cloaca and becomes engorged
with lymphatic fluid (Fowler 1986; King, AS 1981b).
Female
The female embryo has two gonads but only the left one
develops, leaving the right ovary and oviduct to regress. This
can be identified as a strand of tissue on the right side along
the ventral side of the caudal vena cava (Gilbert 1979). As
in the male, the female organs regress dramatically after the
breeding season (King & McLelland 1984).
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In domestic fowl the epididymis has an appendix which
attaches by connective tissue into the ventral part of the
adrenal gland. Surgical castration is therefore not always
permanent because in castrated males this area of tissue can
sprout nodules that secrete androgens (King & McLelland
1984).
CLINICAL NOTE
Most spermatogenesis occurs in the early hours of the
morning when temperatures are coolest.
The adjacent abdominal airsacs may play a role in cooling
(Maina 1996).
In passerines, which have the highest body temperatures,
the vas deferens elongates distally to form a cloacal
promontory called the seminal glomus. This is the main
site of sperm storage and functions like a scrotum in
keeping the sperm at temperatures 4 C lower than
the core temperature. The seminal glomus projects into
the cloaca and helps sexually differentiate these species
during the breeding season (Lake 1981; Orosz et al.
1997).
HOW CAN SPERM DEVELOP AT THE HIGH AVIAN
TEMPERATURE OF 4042 C?
KEY POI NTS
Size and color changes between dormant and active
testes
Epididymis less well developed. Its close connection to
adrenal gland in chickens makes permanent castration
difficult
Seminal glomus used for sperm storage in passerines
Most birds lack a true phallus
The right ovary is sometimes retained in birds of prey,
although it is rare for it to have a functional right oviduct.
Other species like the Common kiwi (Apteryx australis) have
been known to have two ovaries (Gilbert 1979; King &
McLelland 1984).
CLINICAL NOTE
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Sexual maturity
Most domestic fowl come into lay at around 5 months.
Seasonal birds will lay in the first spring after hatching.
Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix) become sexually active at
56 weeks, which is why they are often used in laboratory
research.
In ducks, geese, and swans the oviduct is covered by a small
membrane where it opens into the urodeum, until the bird
reaches sexual maturity. This can be used to distinguish
juvenile from mature birds.
Ovary
The left ovary lies caudal to the adrenal gland and near to
the cranial tip of the kidney. It consists of a vascular medulla,
with nerve fibers and smooth muscle, and a peripheral
cortex. It is suspended by the mesovarium and receives its
blood supply from the cranial renal artery.
The ovary resembles a bunch of grapes due to large folli-
cles in sexually active hens (Gilbert 1979). The follicle is
suspended by a stalk containing smooth muscle that has a
rich vascular and nerve supply.
Oviduct
The oviduct occupies the left dorsocaudal side of the celomic
cavity (Fig. 6.61). It is a long coiled tube suspended by the
mesosalpinx. The wall consists of ciliated epithelial lining,
glands, and smooth muscle. The smooth muscles are thickest
in the uterus and vagina to aid with sperm transport. It is
divided into five parts: the infundibulum, magnum, isthmus,
shell gland (uterus), and vagina (Gilbert 1979; King &
McLelland 1984).
Infundibulum
Unlike mammals, fertilization is not a prerequisite for egg
formation and development. The funnel of the infundibulum
catches the egg, and fertilization must take place here before
the oocyte gets surrounded by albumin (Johnson, AL 2000).
Penetration by sperm usually occurs within 15 minutes of
ovulation. A thin and dense layer of albumin is then added
in the tubular section to surround the yolk. Some species
have a sperm host gland in this area to store sperm for a
variable time, for later fertilization.
Magnum
The magnum is the longest part of the oviduct; it is coiled and
numerous tubular glands give it a thickened appearance.
These glands produce the egg white protein albumin, which
gives the lumen a milky white color. Calcium, sodium, and
magnesium are also added here.
Isthmus
The isthmus divides the magnum from the uterus and is
present in poultry but not in psittacines (Orosz et al. 1997).
The folds are less prominent than the magnum but its gland
secretes more albumin.
Uterus
This holds the egg during shell formation and the majority
of time (80%) is spent here (Gilbert 1979). The uterus is
very vascular to aid with calcium deposition.
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The cranial renal artery is very short, making ovariectomy
very difficult and bringing a high risk of hemorrhage.
Prevention of excessive egg laying is done instead by removal
only of the oviduct (salpingohysterectomy) (Orosz et al.
1997).
CLINICAL NOTE
Ureter
Kidneys
Isthmus
Right vestigial
oviduct
Large
intestine
Coprodeum
Urodeum
Proctodeum
Cloaca
Vent
Mature ovum
Ovary
Magnum
Uterus
Vagina
Ostium
Infundibulum
Figure 6.61 Ventral view of female urogenital tract showing left oviduct
and kidneys.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Vagina
The vagina is separated from the uterus by a vaginal sphincter.
The smooth muscle here is more powerful than the rest of
the oviduct. In some species the egg can remain here for
hardening before the egg passes out of the oviduct into the
urodeum.
Sperm host glands are in the uterovaginal junction where
sperm can be stored for many months, which is why female
birds can be fertile weeks after the absence of the male
(Johnson, AL 2000).
Endocrine control
In females FSH is mainly responsible for follicular growth.
The developing follicles produce estrogen from the theca
and interstitial cells, and progesterone from the granulosa
cells. Increasing levels of estrogen stimulate a LH surge
and, under the influence of this, the follicle splits to release
the primary oocyte. Estrogen also mobilizes calcium from
the bone, increasing plasma calcium for egg formation.
Progesterone continues to be secreted to inhibit further
ovulation and stimulate behavioral changes associated with
broodiness and incubation. Prolactin stimulates the produc-
tion of crop milk in both male and female pigeons. Oviposition
in birds is controlled by prostaglandins and arginine vaso-
tocin/oxytocin.
Ovulation
The number of ovulations varies with the species but most
wild birds lay only one clutch a year. The infundibulum catches
the oocyte and this is facilitated by the left abdominal air
sac, which tightly encloses the ovary (Gilbert 1979). However,
if the sequence gets out of phase oocytes can be lost into
the celom. Some of these will get absorbed but others may
cause egg peritonitis. Once ovulation has taken place the
follicle shrinks and regresses. No corpus luteum remains as
there is no developing embryo to maintain.
Egg formation
In the chicken the developing egg travels down the oviduct in
about 25 hours, but it takes about 48 hours in psittacines.
Protein and lipid are synthesized in the liver and travel to
the oocyte in the ovary where they are made into yolk (vitel-
logenesis). In the infundibulum a thin layer of albumin is laid
down during the short 15 minute passage. It takes 3 hours
to go through the magnum where it acquires albumin, sodium,
calcium, and magnesium.
In the isthmus the inner and outer shell membranes are
formed and calcification begins. The last 20 hours are spent
in the uterus where the shell is formed and the albumin
doubles in volume, creating the plumping effect. During
the last 15 hours the highly vascular uterus draws calcium
rapidly from the blood. The completed egg then passes
through the vagina in seconds to be expelled from the vent
(King & McLelland 1984).
Oviposition
Expulsion of the egg involves contraction of the uterus
(shell gland) with relaxation of abdominal muscles and can
take from a few hours to minutes. Cuckoos have the ability
to lay their small eggs in a few seconds so they can get away
before the host returns (Gilbert 1979; King & McLelland
1984). Contraction of the uterus is thought to be controlled
by a combination of vasotocin/oxytocin and prostaglandins
(Johnson, AL 2000).
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The avian primary oocyte is the largest animal cell.
The oocyte of the now extinct Madagascar Elephant bird
(Aepyornis maximus), thought to be the origin of the mythical
Roc, had a diameter of 37 cm, and the volume of a bucket!
GENERAL INTEREST
Figure 6.62 Ventrodorsal radiograph of eggbound budgie with
increased radiopacity of the pelvic limbs. In laying birds calcium is laid
down in the medullary cavity prior to laying in a phenomenon called
polyostotic hyperostosis. This bird also has an enlarged hepatic silhouette
most likely due to hepatic lipidosis.
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Post egg laying
The bird enters the non-breeding state while it is incubating
and caring for its brood. The resting ovary has a shrunken
appearance similar to a juvenile ovary and the oviduct
regresses into an inconspicuous, narrow tube.
Avian eggs
Avian eggs differ from reptilian eggs in that the principal
stored nutrients are fats in the yolk sac. This produces
more energy and water than protein and allows birds to
survive in more arid environments. They are also porous to
allow for gas exchange. The size of the egg varies with the
type of newborn: altricial species lay much smaller eggs
than precocial ones.
The egg consists of a germinal disc, yolk, yolk membranes,
albumin, and shell (Fig. 6.63). The germinal disc is either a
blastoderm (fertilized) or blastodisk (unfertilized). The yolk
is thick and viscous and forms the main nutrient for the
embryo. White yolk is mainly protein with some fat while
yellow yolk is the reverse. The yolk membranes form a
barrier between yolk and the albumin but it is permeable to
water and salts.
The albumin is less viscous than the yolk and composed
mainly of protein. A thin layer of albumin encloses the yolk
membranes and this suspends the yolk in the center of the
egg by twisted strands called chalazae.
The shell consists of the shell membranes, the testa and
the cuticle. The testa is the main thickness of the shell and
consists of a matrix of fibers and calcium carbonate. The
cuticle is water repellent and acts as a barrier to infection.
In contrast to reptile eggs, avian eggs can be pigmented by
two pigments, porphyrin and biliverdin, which are deposited
throughout the testa. Small flaws between the calcium car-
bonate crystals form pores which allow the egg to breathe
(Gilbert 1979; King & McLelland 1984).
Chicks
Chicks fall into two categories: precocial (nidifugous) and
altricial. The precocial chicks have natal down, hatch with
their eyes open, and can survive outside the nest within 1or
2 days (Fig. 6.64). In contrast, altricial chicks are born blind
and naked and require long periods of feeding.
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The Red jungle fowl can lay eggs indeterminately and can
quickly lay more if eggs are lost from the clutch. Domestic
fowl have been bred from this species and this is why they
can lay eggs almost daily for up to 352 days per year.
GENERAL INTEREST
Prostaglandins are of more use clinically for treatment of egg-
bound birds because they not only cause contraction of the
oviduct but relax the uterovaginal sphincter.
CLINICAL NOTE
Cuticle
Shell
External layer
(shell membrane)
Internal layer
(shell membrane)
Air cell
Outer layer
(thin albumin)
Inner layer
(thin albumin)
Thick
albumin
Chalaza
Germinal
disc Yellow
yolk
Figure 6.63 Internal structure of the egg.
KEY POI NTS
Birds have only a left ovary and oviduct.
Sperm storage is possible in sperm glands in the oviduct.
Oviposition is controlled by prostaglandins and oxytocin/
vasotocin.
Avian eggs differ from those of reptiles in that they can be
pigmented, are more porous, and the principle nutrient
to the embryo is egg yolk.
Young can be either precocial or altricial.
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ENDOCRINE SYSTEM
Pituitary gland
The pituitary gland or hypophysis is a small organ lying
attached to the ventral part of the brain stem, just caudal
to the optic chiasma. There are two lobes. The anterior
lobe (adenohypophysis) secretes thyroid-stimulating hormone
(TSH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), FSH, and
LH, which regulate the action of the thyroid, adrenals and
gonads (see Reproductive system for discussion of the
gonads). It also produces prolactin, melanocyte-stimulating
hormone (MSH), and somatotropin. FSH and LH are pro-
duced under the action of GnRH from the hypothalamus
(Oglesbee et al. 1997).
FSH in the male bird increases testicle size and stimu-
lates spermatogenesis; in females it stimulates estrogenesis
and development of the ovarian follicles. LH stimulates the
Leydig cells to produce testosterone in males and in the
female it is known to be involved in ovulation. Somatotropin
appears to regulate body growth in young birds while
ACTH controls the adrenal corticosteroids. TSH controls
the thyroid glands; the exact role of the hormone MSH is
unknown (Hodges 1981).
Prolactin is involved both in the reproductive system and
carbohydrate metabolism. It stimulates brooding and nesting
behavior in both males and females and inhibits gonadal
activity by suppressing the secretion of FSH and LH. In
Columbiformes it stimulates the production of crop milk
from the crop epithelium. It is also thought to be associated
with premigratory behavior stimulating hyperglycemia and
hepatic lipidogenesis (Hodges 1981; King & McLelland 1984).
Posterior pituitary
Vasotocin and oxytocin are produced in the hypothalamus
and stored in the neurohypophysis or posterior pituitary
gland. They act on the uterus and the kidney. Vasotocin plays
a major role in body water balance (antidiuretic hormone)
and is transported via the bloodstream to the kidney where
it causes water resorption. Both hormones play a role in
uterine (shell gland) contraction and oviposition, although
vasotocin is much more potent.
Pineal gland
This is a conical, pink structure located between the cere-
bral hemispheres and the cerebellum. This gland is believed
to be involved with circadian rhythms, reproductive control,
and photoreception (Hodges 1981).
Thyroid gland
These paired, oval glands lie just cranial to the thoracic inlet,
lateral to the trachea and medial to the jugular veins. Unlike
mammals, birds do not have C cells that produce calcitonin.
This is produced instead by the ultimobranchial bodies.
Avian thyroglobulin has a higher percentage of iodine than
mammals, which is why many birds easily develop iodine
deficiency (Oglesbee et al. 1997).
The two hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine
(T3) play many roles in avian species. These hormones regu-
late molting by stimulating the growth of new feathers. They
also control metabolism, regulation of heat and growth, the
reproductive organs, and increasing egg production (Hodges
1981; King & McLelland 1984; Rae 2000).
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Figure 6.64 Precocial (nidifugous) chicks are born with natal down and
their eyes open and can survive outside the nest within 12 days.
The pituitary should be carefully evaluated in post mortems
on budgies as pituitary adenomas and carcinomas are
common. A normal pituitary gland measures 2 mm in
diameter, but if neoplastic it can be increased 10-fold.
Clinical signs caused by hormonal imbalance include
persistent hyperglycemia and polydipsia or polyuria, while
blindness, exopthalmos, and convulsions can be caused by
pressure of the tumor (Rae 2000).
CLINICAL NOTE
Many birds like the budgie easily become deficient in iodine.
This can cause swelling of the thyroid glands called goiter,
which can get so large it blocks the esophagus causing
regurgitation. In budgies the normal thyroid is pale and should
be 2 mm in diameter; any enlargement seen on post-mortem
could be a sign of an iodine-deficient diet (Evans 1996;
Rae 2000).
CLINICAL NOTE
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Parathyroid glands
These lie caudal to the thyroid and consist of two pairs of
small, yellow glands, which are often fused together. These
glands secrete PTH which, as in mammals, controls calcium
and phosphorous metabolism. It raises serum calcium by both
increasing calcium reabsorption from the kidney tubule and
releasing it from bone via osteoclastic activity. It decreases
phosphorous levels by decreasing tubular reabsorption
(Hodges 1981; Rae 2000).
As some birds, like the domestic, can lay almost one egg
daily they have a much higher demand for calcium than
mammals. Estrogen stimulates the deposition of calcium in
the medullary cavity of bones about 10 days prior to laying
(Fig. 6.62). Under the action of PTH this calcium deposit
is then shifted from the medullary cavity into ionized
plasma calcium and used to calcify the eggshell (King &
McLelland 1984; Oglesbee et al. 1997; Rae 2000).
Ultimobranchial bodies
These are small, pink, flattened glands lying just caudal to the
parathryoids and consist of C cells, which secrete calcitonin.
The role of calcitonin in birds is unknown as it does not appear
to lower serum calcium. It may play a role in limiting exten-
sive reabsorption of bone by PTH (Hodges 1981; King &
McLelland 1984; Oglesbee et al. 1997).
Adrenal glands
These are small, ovoid glands lying just cranial to the kidneys
and gonads on either side of the aorta and caudal vena cava.
In birds the cortex is not well differentiated from the
medulla (Hodges 1981; Rae 2000). In some male birds, like
the domestic fowl, they are firmly attached to the appendix
of the epididymis by connective tissue (King & McLelland
1984).
Adrenaline and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) are
secreted by the medullary part of the gland. The cortical parts
secrete corticosterone and aldosterone. In birds corticos-
terone has both glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid activity
and so plays a bigger role than aldosterone in electrolyte
balance.
Pancreas
This lies in the mesentery of the duodenum and is often
divided into three lobes. The endocrine portion has three
types of islets: alpha, beta and delta. The alpha cells secrete
glucagon, which regulates carbohydrate metabolism, increas-
ing serum glucose levels by gluconeogenesis, lipolysis, and
glycogenolysis. The beta cells produce insulin, which lowers
the level of serum glucose by stimulating tissue uptake and
storage. Delta cells produce somatostatin, which regulates
the levels of glucagon and insulin. Birds have much higher
glucagon levels and lower insulin levels than mammals (Rae
2000). It is thought that glucagon plays a far higher role in
carbohydrate metabolism than insulin (Hazelwood 2000;
Hodges 1981; Oglesbee et al. 1997). The role of insulin is
still poorly understood (Rae 2000).
Other F cells (sometimes called PP cells) situated in the
exocrine tissue of the pancreas secrete avian pancreatic
polypeptide. This inhibits gastrointestinal motility and
gallbladder and pancreatic secretion. It also induces a
sense of satiety via the central nervous system (Hazelwood
2000).
Gastrointestinal endocrine cells
Endocrine cells are scattered along the intestinal epithelium
but the majority of endocrine cells are situated in the pylorus.
Hormones secreted by the gastrointestinal tract include
somatostatin, secretin, and avian pancreatic polypeptide.
NERVOUS SYSTEM
The avian brain is small with less development of the cere-
bral hemispheres. These are composed mainly of the corpora
striata, indicating that birds use less learning and memory
but more instinct and stereotypical behavior. More intelligent
birds like parrots have better development of the cerebral
hemispheres.
There is a well-developed cerebellum for locomotion
and large optic lobes for vision. There are 12 pairs of cranial
nerves, as in mammals. The spinal cord resembles that of
mammals, having three meninges: the dura, arachnoid, and
pia mater. However, as the cord is the same length as the
canal there is no cauda equina (King & McLelland 1984).
The spinal cord becomes enlarged at the brachial and
lumbosacral plexi. Flying birds have a more prominent
brachial plexus, while running birds like the ostrich have a
large lumbar plexus (Rosenthal 1997a). A unique feature of
birds is the glycogen body. This pea shaped, glycogen-rich
cleft lies on the dorsal surface of the lumbosacral plexus
but its function is unknown (Rosenthal 1997a).
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KEY POI NTS
Prolactin stimulates broodiness, production of crop milk,
and build up of fat stores prior to migration.
Laying hens deposit calcium in the medullary cavity
of bone prior to laying, under the influence
of parathormone.
Birds have a higher iodine requirement than mammals,
which is why goiter is common in some birds.
In birds corticosterone has both a mineralocorticoid and
glucocorticoid effect.
Glucagon plays a bigger role in avian carbohydrate
metabolism than insulin.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
The roots of the lumbar plexus are in contact with the
dorsal surface of the cranial kidney; the sacral plexus is
totally embedded within its middle division. Some of the
roots of the pudendal plexus are embedded in the caudal
division.
Senses
The fact that birds fly mean they must have good aerial
vision, but olfaction is less essential due to the absence of
odors in the sky. Hence, in the avian brain the olfactory bulbs
are reduced while the optic lobes are increased. Recognition
of food relies mainly on sight and, to a lesser degree, by feel
(ducks and geese) and smell.
Sight
The large eyes and well-developed optic lobes in the brains
means birds have excellent vision. In fact, in many species the
two eyes weigh more than the brain (Evans 1996; Gunturkun
2000). Most birds also have a high degree of binocular and
color vision. The optic nerve is the most developed cranial
nerve in birds, being largest in Corvids and Falconiformes
and smallest in nocturnal species. There is no consensual
light reflex in birds because there is complete decussation
of the optic nerve fibers at the optic chiasma (King &
McLelland 1984).
External adnexa
Although the eyelids are open and well developed in precocial
birds, they are sealed in altricial birds. Eyes usually open
between 2 and 4 weeks and usually take a few days for full
separation.
Birds have upper and lower eyelids and a nictitating
membrane. The lower lid is far more mobile and covers
more of the eye while blinking than the upper (Martin
1985). Modified feathers, called filoplumes, are on the lids
and act like mammalian cilia.
The lids close mainly in sleep. Blinking is performed
mainly by the mobile nictitating membrane (3035 times
per minute in domestic fowl). This is usually transparent in
diurnal species so that vision is not impaired.
Orbital glands
The Harderian gland is the largest. It lies craniomedial
within the orbit behind the nictitating membrane and pro-
duces a mucoid secretion that moistens the cornea. The
lacrimal gland lies at the caudolateral margins. Both glands
empty via dorsal and ventral puncta into the nasolacrimal
duct. The nasal (salt) gland lies dorsomedial to the orbit
and empties separately into the nasal cavity (Martin 1985).
Globe
The eyeball consists of a small, unprotected anterior portion
covered by the cornea, and the posterior part that is pro-
tected by the two orbits separated by a thin bony septum.
The anterior part has three basic shapes: flat, globose or
tubular, depending on the species (Figs. 6.65 and 6.66,
Table 6.5). The shape of the eyeball is formed by 10 to 18
scleral ossicles, which are visible by radiography (Fig. 6.67).
These are a ring of overlapping bones, which strengthen the
eye and provide an attachment for the ciliary muscles, per-
mitting greater accommodation (Martin 1985). They are
largest in owls and diurnal raptors and less developed in
Psittaciformes and Anseriformes.
The eyeball fills the orbit so the extraocular muscles are
less developed than in mammals (Kern 1997; Martin 1985).
The single occipital neck joint and long, flexible neck com-
pensate instead by allowing the bird to rotate its neck.
Movements of each eye are independent of each other.
Iris
This is usually dark in color, ranging from brown to black, but
in owls it can be bright yellow and it is pale blue in gannets.
It can also vary with diet as it contains lipid droplets. In some
species it can help identify age; for example, the African
Gray parrot has a gray iris when juvenile that becomes yellow
when mature. In contrast to mammals, the muscles are stri-
ated, making them under some voluntary control, so atropine
will be ineffective (Fig. 6.68). Dilation of the avian iris is
only effective with mydriatics such as the muscle relaxant
vecuronium.
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Zonule fibers
Annular pad
Cornea
Iris
Ciliary body
Scleral ossicles
Sclera
Choroid
Retina
Optic nerve
Pecten
Lens
Posterior chamber
Anterior
chamber
Posterior
chamber
Anterior
chamber
Figure 6.65 Cross-section of avian eye showing small, unprotected
anterior portion covered by the cornea and large posterior part with
pecten. The intermediate area is supported by a ring of scleral ossicles.
The pupil is round and, as the iris has striated muscle,
it cannot be dilated with normal mydriatics. There is no
consensual light reflex (Fig. 6.68).
CLINICAL NOTE
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Globe shape Species Vision
Flat Most birds e.g., Chicken Poor visual acuity
Globose Birds of prey, Passerines Good visual acuity
Tubular Nocturnal birds of prey Excellent visual acuity
Lens
Accommodation is very well developed in birds, with a
softer lens to allow for rapid accommodation. There are
three mechanisms for this. Diurnal birds use the posterior
sclerocorneal muscles to compress the lens while nocturnal
birds and hawks use the anterior sclerocorneal muscle. In
diving birds the cornea has poor accommodation underwater
so they use the combined action of sclerocorneal muscles
and the iris sphincter muscle.
Retina
In order to attain high visual acuity, the avian retina lacks
blood vessels and tapetum lucidum to prevent shadows
and scattering of light. Instead, it is vascularized by a black,
vascular comb-like structure called the pecten. This struc-
ture extends from the optic disk into the vitreous body
towards the lens and is unique to birds. It appears to nourish
the relatively avascular retina, aid in acidbase balance, and
facilitate fluid movement within the eye (Gunturkun 2000;
Martin 1985).
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(a) Flat
(b) Globose
(c) Tubular
Table 6.5 Basic avian globe shapes (King & McLelland 1984)
Figure 6.66 The anterior part of the avian eye has three basic shapes
depending on species.
(a) Flat
(b) Globose
(c) Tubular
Figure 6.67 Skull of rhea (Rhea americana) showing ring of scleral
ossicles.
Figure 6.68 Birds have round pupils and the iris has striated muscles
which cannot be dilated with normal mydriatics like atropine.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
The fundus is usually gray or reddish. The optic disk is
elongated and oval but is mainly obscured by the pecten.
Cones, which provide visual acuity and excellent color vision,
are more numerous in diurnal species, forming up to 80%
in the chicken and pigeon. Nocturnal birds have more rods
than cones.
Fovea
The fovea is the area of densely packed cone cells and, in
birds, is deep for greater visual acuity. Most birds have a
central fovea but ground dwellers have none, and Falconi-
formes, which have the celebrated eagle eye, have two to
allow high visual acuity (Kern 1997; Martin 1985).
Hearing
After vision, hearing is the second most important avian
sense. Birds, especially diurnal ones, generally have the same
hearing ability as humans. However, nocturnal birds like the
owl have an amazingly accurate ability to pinpoint sound,
and homing pigeons can hear extremely low frequencies.
Some nocturnal and underwater species use echoes to locate
obstacles while flying or diving. Birds also have the ability to
hear sounds of rapid frequency because the syrinx of song-
birds is capable of producing a duet of high pitch inaudible
to the human ear.
Like mammals, the ear is the organ of hearing and balance
and is divided into the external, middle and inner ear.
External ear
There is no pinna and the external ear opening is hidden by
feathers called ear coverts. The surrounding skin is loose and
can be drawn forward by the dermo-osseus muscle to reduce
the opening to a vertical slit. This flap can also close over to
block sound entering the ear, in for example, the crowing cock
(King-Smith 1971). In some species, such as owls, a vertical
skin flap called the operculum lies rostral to the external ear
opening (Fig. 6.70). This has a row of stiff feathers at right
angles and this facial ruff can be erected by skeletal muscle
to help locate sound, equivalent to someone cupping their
hands behind their ears. Acute hearing is also facilitated in
some owl species by asymmetrical ear positioning, allowing
one ear to hear sounds on a horizontal plane and the other
on a vertical plane (King & McLelland 1984; Necker 2000).
Middle ear
The middle ear is the air-filled cavity between the tympanic
membrane and inner ear. There is only one bony ossicle
called the columella (equivalent of the mammalian stapes)
which transmits sound vibrations from the tympanum to
the vestibular window of the inner ear (Necker 2000). The
middle ear is connected to the oropharynx by the pharyn-
gotympanic tubes (the equivalent of mammalian eustachian
tubes). As birds need to adjust rapidly to high altitudes, these
tubes are short and open directly into the pharynx via the
common infundibular cleft (Evans 1996; King & McLelland
1984) (Fig. 6.69).
Inner ear
This contains the organ of hearing (the cochlea) and the
organs of balance (the three semicircular canals, utricle, and
saccule). Unlike in mammals, the cochlea is short and not
coiled and the semicircular canals are larger and more thick
walled. The eighth cranial nerve receives both vestibular
and auditory sensory fibers.
Olfaction
The olfactory system consists of the external nares and the
caudal conchae that are lined by olfactory epithelium and
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Many diurnal birds lack rods so have excellent day vision and
poor night vision, which is why dimming the lights makes it
easier to catch birds (King-Smith 1971).
CLINICAL NOTE
Scleral ring
Inner ear
Middle ear
Opening of
pharyngotympanic tube
Figure 6.69 Skull of Domestic fowl (Gallus gallus) showing scleral
ossicles and location of ears.
Figure 6.70 Long
eared owl (Asio otus)
showing the oper-
culum. This is a flap of
feathered skin rostral
to the external ear
opening which can be
raised to capture sound
on the same principle
as a satellite dish.
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connected to the olfactory bulbs of the brain. There is no
vomeronasal organ (Mason & Clark 2000).
Birds do have a sense of smell, although it may not be as
highly developed as vision and hearing (King-Smith 1971).
Many species use olfactory cues to find food, and smell
plays a role in maternal identification of young (Mason &
Clark 2000). The olfactory bulbs are smallest in seed eaters
and larger in aquatic birds. The ground-dwelling nocturnal
kiwi, which eats earthworms, has the largest of all and is the
only bird with nostrils at the end of its beak. Vultures, which
feed on dead carrion, also have a well-developed sense of
smell, and homing pigeons use olfactory cues to find their
way home (King & McLelland 1984).
Taste
The taste buds are confined to glandular non-cornified
epithelium. They lie at the base of the tongue, and in the
roof and floor of the oropharynx. In parrots they lie at
either side of the choana and at the rostral end of the
laryngeal mound.
The total number of taste buds is far fewer than in mam-
mals, with the chicken having 24 taste buds and parrots
350, in contrast to 9000 in man and 17,000 in the rabbit
(Klasing 1998; Mason & Clark 2000). Birds, however, do
respond to salts and acids and dislike bitter-tasting sub-
stances. They are also far more tolerant of spicy foods than
mammals. For example chili red peppers (capsaicin), which
would be irritating to mammals, have little effect on birds.
Parrots and humming birds have a definite preference for
sugary water, while birds with salt glands have a higher
preference for salt tastes (King & McLelland 1984; Mason
& Clark 2000).
Touch
Birds have widely distributed mechanoreceptors called
Herbst corpuscles in their skin. These are located deep in
the dermis and found on beaks, legs and associated with
feather follicles. In the plumage these are used to ruffle
feathers and help stimulate preening.
Avian species that use their beak to search and locate
food also have these receptors located in a well-developed
beak tip organ, which is located along the edge and tip of
the upper beak in aquatic birds like ducks and geese (Gerlach
1997b). Psittacines have them located in the lower beak.
These remarkably sensitive touch receptors compensate for
the lack of taste buds. For example, mallard ducks have
more sensation in their beak tip than we humans have in
our index finger tip (Klasing 1998).
INTEGUMENT
Avian skin is very thin as it is protected by the plumage
and helps to reduce weight (Spearman 1971) (Fig. 6.71).
It is lightly attached to underlying muscle but firmly
attached to bone. There are only three glands: the uropygial
or preen gland, the aural gland and the vent gland. The
absence of sweat glands means birds have to lose heat
through their skin and by evaporation from the respiratory
system.
The epidermis consists of the superficial stratum corneum,
which contains keratinized dead cells and the deeper living
stratum germinativum. This layer is thin and fragile under
the feathers but thicker on the feet and around the beak in
order to resist mechanical stress. A unique feature of the
avian epidermis is that it acts like a holocrine sebaceous
gland, secreting a thin lipid film that helps in the mainte-
nance of the plumage (Spearman 1983; Spearman & Hardy
1985).
The dermis is composed of connective tissue and contains
the feather follicles, nerves and blood vessels. In some species,
like the domestic fowl, the dermis becomes thickened and
highly vascularized to form combs and wattles, but the epi-
dermis remains thin, making them prone to injury (Dyce et
al. 2002). The subcutaneous layer is mainly composed of
loose connective tissue and some adipose tissue. It is here
that fat is laid down in aquatic species like ducks, geese, and
swans, and prior to migration in migratory species (King &
McLelland 1984).
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Psittacines with beak malocclusion may need the lower beak
trimmed, along with the upper, in order to maximize function
of the beak tip organ to aid in food prehension.
CLINICAL NOTE
Avian skin is very thin and, owing to the scant subcutaneous
tissue, very inelastic. Handle tissues with care when suturing
and avoid excess skin tension as it tears easily. Owing to the
fact that it has less blood and a smaller nerve supply than
mammals, skin wounds bleed less and are less sensitive.
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POI NTS
Birds have excellent hearing and sight but poor sense of
smell and taste.
There is no external ear and only one middle ear bone,
called the columella.
The eyes have scleral ossicles. An avascular retina is
nourished by the pecten, and fovea are present for visual
acuity.
There is no avian consensual light reflex.
The iris is controlled by striated muscle pupil and so is
non responsive to atropine.
Neck rotation compensates for poor orbital muscles.
Eyes can, however, move independently.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Uropygial gland
The uropygial gland is the preen or oil gland and is found at
the dorsal base of the tail (Evans 1996) (Figs. 6.72 and 6.73).
It is most developed in waterfowl and maintains feather
condition and waterproofing. It also acts as a bacteriostat
(Spearman 1983). It is a bilobed holocrine gland drained by
a papilla dorsocaudally and is covered by a tuft of down
feathers called the uropygial wick. This feather tuft may
aid in transmitting oil from the gland to the beak while
preening (Dyce et al. 2002; Spearman & Hardy 1985). This
gland is prominent in African Grays and budgies but absent
in many parrots (e.g., Amazon parrots), ostriches and many
pigeons (Bauck, Orosz & Dorrestein 1997; Bezuidenhout
1999; Evans 1996; Spearman 1971).
Lipid secreted by this gland and the epidermal cells are
spread over the feathers by the bill during preening (Spearman
1983). This lipid layer forms a protective bacteriostatic layer
over the skin and may explain why birds are less prone to
skin infections. Birds can preen as often as once an hour at
rest (Bauck, Orosz & Dorrestein 1997).
Aural sebaceous glands around the external ear secrete a
waxy substance. Vent glands secrete mucus but their function
is unknown, although it may be linked to internal fertilization.
Podotheca
The non-feathered area of the legs is called the podotheca
and is composed of keratinized epidermal plates called scales.
The skin is thickened in the ventral metatarsophalangeal
region and is designed to withstand impact on landing. In
aquatic species, the skin is softer and more flexible and
modified between the toes into webs. The distal phalanx is
keratinized into the nail or claw. The dorsal aspect grows
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Occiput
Crown
Periophthalmic
region
Forehead
Cere
Nares
Lore
Cheek
Chin
Throat
Minor wing coverts
Median wing coverts
Tertiaries
Dorsal major
primary coverts
Crural tract
Under tail coverts (crissum)
Primary remiges
Rectrices
Dorsal major
caudal coverts
Secondary
remiges
Rump
Back
Dorsal major
secondary coverts
Scapulars
Interscapular tract
Mantle
Shoulder
Hindneck
Dorsal cervical tract
Nape
Ear coverts (auricular tract)
Figure 6.71 Avian plumage.
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faster than the softer ventral side and this gives the claw its
curved appearance (Bauck, Orosz & Dorrestein 1997;
Spearman 1971; Spearman & Hardy 1985).
Patagia
Patagia are thin membranous sheets of skin located where
the wings, neck, and legs join the body. They can be a useful
site for subcutaneous injections. The main patagia of the wing
are the propatagium (also called the wing web) between the
shoulder and carpus and the metapatagium between the
thorax and wing.
Brood patch
This is a patch on the midventral chest between the caudal
sternum and pubic bones. During the breeding season this
patch loses feathers under the influence of estrogen and
becomes thickened and vascular to provide extra warmth
during egg incubation. In some species like gulls the number
of brood patches is matched to the number of eggs in the
clutch.
FEATHERS
Feathers are keratinized epidermis, which are derived from
specialized follicles in the dermis. During growth there is a
healthy arterial and venous blood supply to the follicle, which
degenerates when the feather matures. Immature feathers
will thus bleed if broken and are called blood feathers
(Bauck, Orosz & Dorrestein 1997).
The feathering or plumage of birds can weigh 2 to 3 times
than that of their bones. They are not attached to the skin
evenly but are set in feather tracts called pterylae (Bauck,
Orosz & Dorrestein 1997; Spearman 1971). Apteria (feather-
less regions) are also present and may be used for wing and
leg movements and to provide space for these appendages
to be tucked in. As they are not present in penguins they
are also assumed to be an outlet for heat loss. The size and
number of feathers is related to the metabolic rate, tem-
perature, and body mass of each bird.
Role of feathers
Feathers play a vital role in protecting, insulating, and water-
proofing the bird. They are also essential for flight and, often,
courtship (Evans 1996).
Feather structure
The classic feather is the contour feather, which has a hollow
shaft and feather vane. The main shaft is the rachis and the
base is the calumus. The feather vane consists of a sheet of
stiff filaments called barbs which extend at a 45 degree angle
on either side from the rachis. Barbs have even finer filaments
called barbules and these contain minute hooks that zip the
feathers together, creating a smooth appearance (Evans 1996)
(Fig. 6.77). Ostriches have feathers with barbules but they
do not interlock, thus creating the fluffy appearance so
beloved in the past as plumes for hats. Birds maintain this
smooth appearance by preening, but if there is any lasting
damage it can only be remedied when the feather is molted.
The rachis is grooved underneath and ends in a depression
called the distal umbilicus. In some feathers a small down
feather may emerge from this creating a fluffy appearance.
The calamus or quill ends in the proximal umbilicus, which
lies embedded in the feather follicle (Fig. 6.76).
Feather follicle
This is a tubular invagination of the epidermis with a dermal
papilla at its base that projects up into the proximal umbili-
cus and has a rich supply of blood vessels (Fig. 6.78). After
a feather becomes fully grown, germinal activity ceases at
Avian anatomy and physiology
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151
Uropygial gland
Papilla
Feather circlet
Retrices
(a) (b)
Figure 6.72 Dorsal view of uropygial gland. Surrounding feathers have
been plucked for better visibility.
Figure 6.73 Location of uropygial gland in relation to pygostyle.
(a) Dorsal view
(b) Lateral view
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
the base of the follicle and it enters a resting stage until the next
molt. This feather papilla will continue to produce feathers
throughout the birds life (Evans 1996; Spearman 1971).
Adjacent feather follicles are linked by a network of
smooth muscles lying in the dermis and each muscle is
attached to the follicle by an elastic tendon. These muscles
can act as a unit to raise or lower feathers, draw them apart
or together. This can be used for sexual display or to fluff out
feathers when cold to conserve heat. This is controlled by
mechanoreceptors, the Herbst corpuscles, that lie adjacent
to feather tracts. These are very sensitive to vibration and
help to position the feathers.
Feather types
Contour feathers
These are the largest feathers and form the external appear-
ance of adult birds. They are found on wings, tail, and body
surface and are the feathers of flight. The wing feathers are
called remiges (Latin for rowers) while tail feathers are called
rectrices (Latin for rudder). The number of each will vary;
for example, budgies have 10 primaries and 11 secondaries
on each wing and 6 pairs of rectrices (Evans 1996). Covert
feathers are smaller feathers which cover the remiges and
rectrices dorsally and ventrally. As they are purely for cover-
ing the body and play no role in flight, they are symmetrical.
Ear coverts cover the external ear orifice and may help with
hearing.
Flight feathers
Wing feathers
The wing feathers or remiges are made up of approximately
10 primaries and 10 to 20 secondaries, depending on the
species (Figs. 6.74 and 6.75). The primaries are strongly
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Ligamentum
propatagiale
Patagium
Postpatagium
Radius
Ulna Ulnare
Carpometacarpus
Second digit
Rachis
(distal feather shaft) Outer vane Inner vane
Humerus
Secondary remiges
First secondary remex
Primary remiges
Radiale
Alular 1st digit
Figure 6.74 Ventral view of wing showing insertion of primary and secondary contour feathers.
Figure 6.75 Ventral view of wing of long eared owl (Asio otus).
Ch06.qxd 3/9/05 2:53 PM Page 152
attached dorsally from the carpus to the phalanges and are
not very movable. Each one is asymmetric to act like its
own individual airfoil. The secondaries are attached along
the posterior edge of ulna and form the trailing edge of the
wing. These are particularly enlarged in surface area in
birds that soar. The secondaries have more mobility and are
covered by the wing coverts.
The vanes of the wing feathers are asymmetrical, with the
external side of the vane being narrower than the internal for
aerodynamic flight. In many birds the distal end is narrowed
so that when the wings are spread there is no overlapping
but there are slots between each feather tip. This reduces the
drag effect and allows each feather to act like a propeller
blade (Spearman & Hardy 1985).
Tail feathers
The rectrices attach to the pygostyle and are used for steering
and braking during flight. There are usually 6 pairs but numbers
can vary from 4 to 10 pairs depending on species (Evans 1996).
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Rachis
Distal umbilicus
Calamus (quill)
Proximal
umbilicus
Vane
Main shaft Distal barbule
Barb Proximal barbule
The main difference between a feather and a mammalian hair
is that the feather follicle contains a vascular core of dermis as
well as epidermis (Fig. 6.78). This is why a feather may bleed
profusely when plucked out and why blood feathers should not
be cut when wing clipping (Bauck, Orosz & Dorrestein 1997).
CLINICAL NOTE
Feather sheath
Feather
Axial artery
Cornified layer
Dermis
Germinal matrix
Dermal papilla
(feather pulp)
Epidermis
Feather pulp
Figure 6.76 Contour wing feather (rectrix) showing asymmetry of
vane.
Figure 6.77 Detail of barbs, barbules and interlocking hooklets.
Figure 6.78 Development of a feather.
The axial core of dermis forms the pulp with a covering of epidermis.
Unlike mammalian skin the dermis of developing feathers provides a
rich blood supply hence the term blood feather.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Semiplumes
These appear fluffy, with a very long rachis that is longer
than the barbs (Fig. 6.79a). As there are no barbules there
is no smooth effect. These can often be found alongside
feather margins, are good insulators and are often used for
courtship.
Filoplumes
These are the avian equivalent of mammalian whiskers and
act like sensory organs. They are bristle-like, with a long
calumus and a fine tuft of barbs at the tip, and are often
found in association with the follicles of contour feathers
(Fig. 6.79c). These have nerve endings near their follicles
which may help with aerodynamic adjustments of the
contour feathers. They are absent in flightless birds like
penguins and ostriches (Bauck, Orosz & Dorrestein 1997).
Down feathers
These are the converse of semi plumes with a small rachis
(shorter than the barbs) and non-interlocking barbules,
which makes them fluffy (Fig. 6.79b). They lie next to the
body under the contour feathers in adults and are what gives
chicks their fluffy appearance. The loose barbules trap air
next to the skin and so these are the best feathers for
providing thermal insulation.
Powder down
These are specialized down feathers which produce a fine
powder keratin dust from the barbs. This talc-like powder
is then coated over the plumage during preening. It is
found in many parrots, like cockatoos and African grays,
and its absence can often be the first sign of the circovirus
causing Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease. In pigeons the
production of powder down has been associated in humans
with allergic alveolitis or pigeon fanciers lung (Spearman
& Hardy 1985).
Hyopenna
These are called afterfeathers and protrude from the base
of the rachis of contour feathers. They have a stiff rachis
and almost no barbules (Fig. 6.79e).
Bristles
These have a stiff rachis and a few barbs at the proximal
end (Fig. 6.79d). These are found at the base of the eyelids,
nares, and mouth. They have both sensory and protective
functions similar to mammalian whiskers.
Feather color
The wonderful range of avian feather color plays a major
role in camouflage, courtship, and protection from heat and
light. The color can be produced by pigments like melanin,
carotenoids and porphyrins or the structural effects of white
light on the feathers.
Melanin is what gives blackbirds and crows their black
appearance and also produces gray and brown. It is the most
common pigment found in birds and is synthesized from
the amino acid tyrosine. Feathers containing melanin are
stronger as they usually have increased amounts of keratin
(Spearman 1971; Spearman & Hardy 1985; Welty 1982a).
Carotenoids cannot be synthesized but are obtained by
birds from plants in their diet. They are red, orange, and
yellow pigments and are responsible for the canary yellow,
cardinal red, and flamingo pink coloration. They rarely affect
flight feathers but mainly affect other contour feathers,
especially of the breast and back (Spearman 1971; Spearman
& Hardy 1985; Welty 1982a).
Porphyrins are nitrogenous pigments synthesized by birds
and form green, red and some browns. They are found in
owls, pigeons, and gallinaceous birds. These colors fluoresce
when exposed to ultraviolet light.
Structural colors
Birds do not have a true blue pigment (Spearman & Hardy
1985). Instead, when white light is scattered by the feathers
the short wavelength red end of the spectrum is absorbed while
the blue end is reflected. This effect, known as Tyndall scatter-
ing, is what makes the sky blue. Although some green is pro-
duced by porphyrin pigments it is more commonly produced
by a combination of yellow carotenoids and the Tyndall effect
(Spearman 1971; Spearman & Hardy 1985; Welty 1982a).
B
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154
As feathers containing melanin pigment are stronger,
many white birds like gulls often have blackened tips on the
primary feathers to protect against wear and tear.
CLINICAL NOTE
In sea ducks, like the Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)
down feathers form an impervious layer of very dense
feathers, which covers the whole thorax and abdomen.
These insulating feathers are plucked during the breeding
season to make a cosy nest for their young on rocky sea cliffs.
In the past this down was much sought after for making quilts
hence the name eiderdown (Spearman & Hardy 1985).
GENERAL INTEREST
Flamingos are able to oxidize yellow or beta-carotene to red
ketocarotenoids. Newly hatched chicks have no pigmentation
but receive it from their parents in the crop milk. These yellow
pigments come from plant foods in the Andean flamingo
(Phoenicopterus andinus) or from algae, crustaceans, and
molluscs in other flamingo species.
GENERAL INTEREST
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Avian anatomy and physiology
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155
(a)
(b)
Rachis
Barbs
Calamus (quill)
Rachis
Barbs
Calamus (quill)
(c)
(d)
Rachis
Barbs
Calamus (quill)
Rachis
Barbs
Calamus (quill)
Rachis
Barbs
Calamus
(quill)
(e)
Figure 6.79
(a) Semiplume the rachis is longer than the barbs and there are no
barbules
(b) Down feather the rachis is short with long barbs
(c) Filoplume the calamus is long with a tuft of barbs at the distal end
(d) Bristle the rachis is stiff, with barbs at proximal end
(e) Contour covert feather with afterfeather (hyopenna). These have a stiff
rachis and almost no barbules and protrude from the base of the rachis of
contour feathers.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
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Avian anatomy and physiology
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Ch06.qxd 3/9/05 2:53 PM Page 157
Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
B
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158
Iridescence (like the rainbow coloring of an oil slick), as
seen in starlings and peacocks, is a combination of melanin
pigment with structural breakdown of light through the
feather barbules. This effect means the color will change
with the angle from which it is viewed (Welty 1982a).
Molting
This is the replacement of feathers and is a continuous process
to avoid the bird becoming bald and flightless. Molting
occurs because the emerging feather ejects the old feather
from its follicle causing it to be shed (Spearman & Hardy
1985). Before the barbs are released they are encased in a
feather sheath called a pinfeather. Birds usually molt the
inside primaries first and then stagger the loss of the rest of
the wing feathers(Spearman 1971).
Feathers are held in place in follicles by the action of the
follicular muscle under the control of the autonomic nervous
system. When a bird is frightened this may relax, causing
the bird to shed feathers in what is called a fright molt
(Bauck, Orosz & Dorrestein 1997). Cut feathers or plucked
feathers do not regrow until the feather shaft is lost in the
molt and the new one grows from the feather papilla.
Triggers for molting
Factors influencing molting are nutrition, reproduction, time
of year, temperature, and light. It also depends on habitat
and whether the bird is migratory or not. Young birds molt
their juvenile feathers before they become adults and often
go through a series of subadult plumages. Adult birds usually
molt after breeding (post nuptial or winter plumage) when
the levels of estrogen and androgens drop. Some birds keep
the new set for the next 12 months while some change to
a brighter nuptial or breeding plumage for courtship display
in the mating season (Bauck, Orosz & Dorrestein 1997).
Ducks and geese lose all their contour feathers at once and
this renders them temporarily flightless.
Molting is a time of intense stress on a bird with increased
demands for protein (especially amino acids lysine, cystine,
and arginine), calcium, and iron. Therefore birds that lose
feathers due to illness or self-mutilation have high demands
for good nutrition. Heat loss is increased due to feather loss
so energy intake must be increased to sustain the increased
metabolic rate. In fact, the total draw of energy and protein
reserves during molting can cause the metabolic rate to
increase by 15 to 25%.
Control of molting
Photoperiod detected via the hypothalamus and anterior
pituitary triggers the release of the thyroid and gonadal hor-
mones. Thryoxine stimulates the feather follicles and growth
of the plumage while androgen and estrogen appear to inhibit
molt until after the breeding season. Progesterone prevents
ovulation and induces molt by stimulating the feather papil-
lae. Dietary deficiencies, especially low protein diets, will also
inhibit molting (Spearman 1971).
KEY POI NTS
Avian skin is thin and inelastic with a bacteriostatic lipid layer.
The patagia (skin webs) are useful sites for subcutaneous
injections.
Damaged feathers can only be replaced at the next molt.
Good levels of nutrition are essential to aid molting and
produce new healthy feathers. Extra protein, calcium and
iron is important.
Newly emerging feathers, called blood or pin feathers,
are highly vascular so beware cutting these if wing clipping.
Ch06.qxd 3/9/05 2:53 PM Page 158
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INTRODUCTION
Mammals obviously need no introduction to any veterinary
surgeon! This section is intended to revise the main mor-
phological and physiological differences between reptiles,
birds and mammals.
Mammals are endothermic, with tactile vibrissae and a
pinna for collecting sound. The skin has hair modified into
fur, spines, wool, and even scales. Sebaceous glands prevent
water loss while sweat glands play a role in insulation
through evaporation of water and salts. They have separate
reproductive and excretory passages and, except for the
more primitive monotremes, no cloaca. They have loops of
Henle, which enable them to produce concentrated urine,
and the end point of nitrogenous waste is urea. Marine
mammals do not have salt glands but osmoregulate and
excrete salt via their kidneys (King & Custance 1982;
Vaughan 1986b).
It is thought that the high mammalian body temperature
is too high for sperm development so the testes migrate
outside the body to a cooler location in the scrotum. In
placental mammals the lower oviduct is modified into a
uterus where the embryo is nourished. Three types of
uterus are found (Fig. 7.1). The primitive duplex uterus
found in the rabbit, rat, and hamster has two separate
branches and separate cervices uniting at the vagina. In
most mammals like carnivores (dog and cat), guinea pigs,
and ungulates the distal part of the uterus fuses into a
uterine body to form the bicornuate or bipartite (slight
partition remaining) state. The most advanced form is
found in primates where there is total fusion of the uterine
body, forming what is paradoxically called the simplex state
(King & Custance 1982).
The heart is completely divided into four chambers,
which enables the maintenance of a high blood pressure.
The aortic arch curves to the left in mammals. They have a
diaphragm that separates the abdomen from the thorax and
extensive nasal turbinates to aid in thermoregulation. The
hard palate is complete, dividing the nasal cavity from the
oral cavity and allowing the animal to chew while breath-
ing. This clear division of labor is essential for animals of
high metabolic rate and it also enables the young to breathe
while suckling.
Mammals have a specialized atlasaxis complex to help
them rotate their head up and down and side to side. Ribs
are restricted only to the thoracic vertebrae, thus enabling
them to twist their lumbar spine in dorsoventral flexion.
The skull has a large double occipital condyle and the
adductor jaw muscles, which open the mouth, are divided
into the masseter and the temporalis (King & Custance
1982). The temporal fossa provides attachment for the
temporalis while the masseter inserts on the zygomatic
arch. Carnivores have well developed temporal muscles
while in herbivores the masseter muscle is the main muscle
of mastication and the jaw articulation lies dorsal to the
occlusal surfaces of the teeth (Crossley 2003) (Fig. 7.2).
This enables herbivorous mammals like rabbits to have the
side to side, forward, backward, and rotary chewing actions
that grind down grasses. The mandible is formed from a
single dentary bone to allow for insertion of these powerful
muscles; the quadrate and articular bones have become
the ear ossicles, incus, and malleus respectively (King &
Custance 1982).
TAXONOMY
Order Carnivora
The order of carnivores consists of ten families with over
270 species and are found naturally everywhere, apart from
Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and many oceanic islands.
They range in size from the tiny Least weasel (Mustela
nivalis) which weighs 3570 g to the grizzly brown bear (Urus
arctos) which can weigh up to 780 kg (Nowak 1999a).
The term carnivore derives from the Latin carnis (flesh)
and vorare (devour) in keeping with the fact that most
species are meat eaters. However many bears are omnivo-
rous and the Giant Panda is in fact a strict herbivore.
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The heavy skull has a conspicuous saggital crest with well-
developed temporal muscles and a large braincase (Fig. 7.2).
The jaw articulation is in the dorso-ventral plane with
limited transverse movement and no rotary movement. All
teeth are rooted. Most species have 3/3 incisors with large
conical canines and a variable amount of shearing and crush-
ing premolar and molars. In most carnivores the fourth upper
premolar and first lower molar are carnassial teeth that work
together to provide the specialized shearing action for tear-
ing at prey when feeding (Vaughan 1986a; Nowak 1999a).
Unlike lagomorphs and rodents, carnivores are typical
predators and most species have excellent hearing, vision
and smell for hunting. They have large auditory bullae and
well-developed turbinates and olfactory epithelium.
They have 45 clawed digits on each limb. The first digit
is not opposable and is often absent. Many, like canids and
felids are digitigrade walking on their toes while Ursids, or
bears, are plantigrade walking on the soles with heels touch-
ing the ground. Young are born blind and helpless but with
a covering of fur and there is usually a high level of parental
care (Vaughan 1986a; Nowak 1999a).
Order Lagomorpha and Rodentia
Rodents comprise the largest mammalian order with over
1800 species (40% of all mammals) (Hurst 1999). They
can be found worldwide from the Arctic to tropical and
temperate regions (Nowak 1999b, 1999c). Lagomorphs
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(a)
Infundibulum
Ovary
Oviduct
Horn of uterus
Right uterus
Right cervix
Vagina
Vaginal vestibule
Urethra
Urinary bladder
(b)
Partition in
body of uterus
Cervix
(c)
Body of uterus
(no partition)
Cervix
(d)
Oviducts
(fallopian tubes)
Body of uterus
Cervix
Figure 7.1 Types of uterus found in placental mammals.
(a) Duplex (rabbit, hamster, rat)
(b) Bipartite (some carnivores and ungulates)
(c) Bicornuate (cat, dog, ferret, and ungulates)
(d) Simplex uterus (primates)
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Order Suborder Description Species examples
Lagomorpha Rabbits, hares,
cottontails
Rodentia Myomorpha Mouse like Rats, mice, hamsters
Caviomorpha Cavy like Guinea pigs,
chinchilla
Sciuromorpha Squirrel like Squirrels,
chipmunks,
prairie dogs
Lagomorphs
Rabbits belong to the order Lagomorpha, which contains
two families: the Ochotonidae, which includes the pikas
(Ochotona), and the Leporidae, containing rabbits and hares
(Lepus) and cottontails (Sylvilagus) (Nowak 1999c).
Lagomorphs differ from rodents in both dentition and
jaw structure. Unlike rodents they have two rows of upper
incisors and the upper maxillary arcades lie further apart
than the mandibular arcades, meaning that only one side of
the cheek teeth can be occluded at a given time. Up until
the mid-twentieth century they were classified as a sub-
order of the order Rodentia but it is now thought that their
different dentition and jaw structure makes them more
similar to artiodactyls, such as cows and horses (Crossley
2003; Nowak 1999b).
Rabbits differ from hares in having a short gestation period
(2833 days) and giving birth to altricial young in burrows
underground. Hares are generally larger than rabbits, have a
gestation period of 40 to 50 days, and give birth over ground to
precocious young (Harkness & Wagner 1995; Nowak 1999c).
Rodents
Traditionally the order Rodentia was divided into the sub-
orders Myomorpha, Sciuromorpha and the Caviomorpha
(Hystricomorpha) based on skull and jaw musculature
(Hurst 1999; Nowak 1999b) (Fig. 7.4). The classification
of rodents is always in flux, however. More recent research
on mandibular anatomy has suggested classifying rodents
into just two suborders: Sciurognathi (sciuromorphs and
myomorphs) and Hystricognathi (caviomorphs) (DErchia
et al. 1996; Nowak 1999b; Vaughan 1986b).
Myomorphs
The Myomorpha, or mouse-like rodents, are the biggest
suborder and include the rat, hamster, and gerbil (Fig. 7.5).
They have a total of 16 teeth with no premolars, and
rooted molars. Famous for their gnawing ability, a feature
of this suborder is that part of the medial masseter muscles
inserts not only on the lower jaw but runs through the
infraorbital foramen to insert on the rostral muzzle. This
unique architecture allows a more forward thrust of the
jaw and more effective gnawing (King & Custance 1982;
Nowak 1999b; Vaughan 1986b).
Two families from the order of Myomorpha will be fea-
tured in this book: the family Muridae, which includes rats
and mice, and the family Cricetidae, which includes gerbils
and hamsters. The main anatomical characteristics distin-
guishing these two families is that the Cricetidae have
molar cusps arranged in two parallel longitudinal rows while
the Muridae have cusps arranged in three rows.
Sciuromorphs
These are the squirrel-like rodents and include the chip-
munk, squirrel, and prairie dog (Fig. 7.6). They have 2022
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differ from rodents in that they have four upper incisors
(Vaughan 1986c) and a different jaw structure, but other-
wise they share many similar behavioral and anatomical
characteristics and will be included with rodents for this
introductory section (Table 7.1).
Figure 7.2 Comparison of muscles of mastication between herbivores
and carnivores. In herbivores the masseter is the main muscle of mastica-
tion and the jaw articulation lies dorsal to the occlusal surfaces of the teeth.
(a) Rabbit
(b) Cat
Table 7.1 Classification of Lagomorphs and Rodents
Temporalis
Masseter
Jaw
articulaton
(a) Rabbit.
Temporalis
Masseter
Jaw
articulaton
(b) Cat.
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teeth and, like the myomorphs, their molars are rooted.
The sciuromorphs have the lateral masseter extending
cranially and the medial masseter muscle is only involved in
closing the jaw (Hurst 1999). The eyes are large as they are
mainly diurnal. The tail varies from short to long and is
usually haired and bushy, with long hairs that project at
right angles from the tail (Nowak 1999b).
Caviomorphs (Hystricomorphs)
The suborder Caviomorpha include the guinea pig and
chinchilla, which eat a highly abrasive herbivorous diet
(Fig. 7.7). They have 20 teeth in total and their open
rooted (aradicular) molars make them especially prone to
dental disease. They also produce precocious young and have
a long gestation period. In contrast to the sciuromorphs,
the medial masseter muscles provide the gnawing action
while the lateral masseter serves to close the jaw (Hurst
1999; Nowak 1999b).
THERMOREGULATION
Many rodents are semi-fossorial, using underground burrows
and nests to either protect them from snow or help them
escape from the hot sun. This enables them to survive even
in extreme climates.
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Figure 7.5 Myomorph Mouse (Mus musculus).
Figure 7.6 Sciuromorph Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis).
Figure 7.7 Caviomorph Chinchilla (Chinchilla laniger).
Figure 7.4 Differing action of lateral and medial masseter muscles in
rodents. Black = medial masseter. Red = lateral masseter.
(a) Myomorph the medial masseter muscles insert not only on the lower
jaw but run through the infraorbital foramen to insert on the rostral
muzzle. This allows greater gnawing power
(b) Sciuromorph these have the lateral masseter muscle extending cranially
to aid gnawing. The medial masseter muscle is only involved in closing the jaw
(c) Caviomorph the medial masseter muscles provide the gnawing action
while the lateral masseter serves to close the jaw.
(a)
(b)
(c)
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Adaptations to cold
Rodents cope with extreme cold by tunneling underground,
nest building, and huddling together to conserve heat. Some
species hibernate when the temperature drops but others
can survive in the warm microclimate that exists between
the ground and insulating layers of snow. Rodents also have
elaborate adaptive mechanisms of high activity to produce
heat, shivering of skeletal muscles and, most importantly,
production of heat by layers of brown fat (non-shivering
thermogenesis). Peripheral vasoconstriction of extremities
like the tail and ears also helps divert heat to important
parts of the body (Hart 1971).
Non-shivering thermogenesis
Brown fat produces heat in cold conditions because it has
a rich blood supply and mitochondria capable of function-
ing even at very low temperatures. It is also unaffected
by nutrition. This type of fat contains multiple droplets
and appears brown due to its extensive capillary network
(4 to 6 times that of white fat). It is under the control
of the sympathetic nervous system via noradrenaline
(Girardier 1983).
In rodents brown fat can be found above the scapulae,
in the cervical region, and also along major vessels and
nerves. It also contributes 5% of body weight in neonates.
In rodents it can persist for life, with those living in cold
regions laying down more tissue; for example, rats adapted
to cold climates develop 1.4% of the body mass as brown
fat (Hart 1971; Girardier 1983).
Brown fat is also essential for rodents that hibernate.
Endothermy is very energy expensive so during winter,
when food is scarce, some rodents switch this off by
hibernating. At the end of the dormant period they are able
to kick start their rapid metabolism via the sympathetic
nervous system. Noradrenaline stimulates brown fat to
heat the blood running through it, releasing energy to the
brain and heart to get the body up and running again (Hart
1971; Girardier 1983).
Adaptations to heat
In hot deserts rodents build extensive underground burrows
for shade, and many are nocturnal to escape the daytime
heat. Many species have a marked ability to conserve water
by concentrating their urine; some desert species are able
to exist on metabolic water alone. Evaporation of saliva,
which is groomed over the body, is also used to cool down.
Like wading birds, rodents also have arteriovenous shunts
with countercurrent heat exchanges in ears, tails, and feet
to help them dissipate excess heat (Hart 1971).
Size
Their small size means rabbits and rodents have a high ratio
of surface area to body weight and consequently a high
metabolic rate and energy intake (Hurst 1999) (Fig. 7.3).
This means they are easily susceptible to dehydration and
hypothermia. Their fast metabolism means they have high
oxygen and energy demands, making them prone to hypo-
glycemia and hypoxia.
DENTITION
Most rodents have between 16 and 22 teeth but have only
one pair of upper incisors, whereas rabbits have 28 teeth
and two pairs. There are no canine teeth and the space
between the incisors and molars is called the diastema
(Fig. 7.8). The incisor teeth are open rooted (aradicular)
and constantly grow from the base, producing a tooth like
the segment of a circle. The outer surface is harder than
the inner dentin, so this creates the chisel-shaped self-
sharpening edge. There is no nerve in the tooth except
at the base. When the rodent is gnawing, cheek folds can
be pulled into the diastema and this enables the animal
to gnaw at hard objects without swallowing sharp material
(Hurst 1999; Nowak 1999b, 1999c; Vaughan 1986b, 1986c;
Wiggs & Lobprise 1995).
The cheek teeth are composed of hard enamel covering
the outer layer and some internal loops surrounding a
center of softer dentine. The enamel, being harder, wears
more slowly and this results in the creation of ridges on
the crown of the teeth, the patterns of which aid in the
classification of rodent species. Herbivorous species that
feed on coarse vegetation, such as the rabbit, guinea pig,
and chinchilla, have open rooted (aradicular) molars that
are constantly ground down by attrition. In contrast,
omnivores like the rat have molars that cease growing at
4 months (Hurst 1999; Nowak 1999b; Wiggs & Lobprise
1995).
GNAWING
The name rodent derives from the Latin rodere, which
means to gnaw. Rabbits, and especially rodents, have large
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Figure 7.3 Their high ratio of surface area to body mass means that
rodents easily get dehydrated and hypothermic.
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Figure 7.8 Radiograph of chinchilla
skull showing incisors, diastema and
molars with large tympanic bullae.
Caviomorphs have constantly grow-
ing molars as well as incisors so are
very prone to dental problems.
Figure 7.9 Rabbits and rodents have phenomenal reproductive rates
these Mongolian gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus) can start breeding from
1012 weeks and reproduce every 26 days!
masseter muscles that allow them great masticatory and
gnawing power. The jaw articulation is loose, creating a
rotary movement and enabling it to move forward and
backward. This means that when the incisors are in
apposition the cheek teeth are not, and vice versa. This
facilitates a clear division of labor between the teeth used
for gnawing and those used for grinding food (King &
Custance 1982; Nowak 1999b, 1999c; Vaughan 1986b,
1986c).
COPROPHAGY
Coprophagy (from the Greek to eat dung) is a behavior
where an animal reingests its own excreted feces and it has
been observed in the rabbit, rat, mouse, hamster, guinea pig,
and chinchilla. It is more correctly called cecotrophy. While
herbivorous hindgut fermenters like the rabbit, guinea pig,
and chinchilla show very active cecotrophy, it is exhibited
to a lesser extent in the more omnivorous rat, mouse, and
hamster. It can increase during pregnancy and lactation in
order to increase the supply of vitamin B12 and folic acid.
Although modern diets mean that coprophagy is unneces-
sary for survival, it is an innate behavior stimulated by anal
reflex (Ebino 1993).
REPRODUCTION
Rodents reproduce rapidly and have large litter sizes (Fig.
7.9). The myomorphs and sciuromorphs have short gesta-
tion periods (1618 days in hamsters) and give birth to
altricial young. These are rapidly weaned at 610 weeks
and often capable of reproducing themselves in the same
season (Hurst 1999).
RESPIRATION
The larynx is placed high in the oropharynx where it can
directly access the nasopharynx so all these species are
obligate nose breathers (Vaughan 1986b) (Fig. 10.13). Being
animals of small body weight they have higher oxygen
demands than larger mammals. Increased oxygen intake is
facilitated not by larger lungs but by a number of other
modifications.
Rabbits and rodents have high chest wall compliance and
vital capacity and low residual lung capacity. This enables
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them to expand their lungs well to draw in more oxygen
and expel maximum air with each breath. They also have
more alveoli of thinner diameter to allow maximum oxygen
exchange. For example the diameter of the alveoli of the
Syrian hamster is 35-75 Um in contrast to 200 in the cat
and 400 in the sedentary sloth. Shorter airways and high
respiration rates also increase oxygen intake (Donnelly 1990).
SENSES
These are prey animals, so are mainly active at low light.
They have an acute sense of smell, hearing, and touch
(Hurst 1999), which is enabled by their possession of large
tympanic bullae, sensitive vibrissae, and large olfactory
bulbs in the brain. Odors form a vital means of communi-
cation and identification via pheromones in urine, feces,
and scent glands. Rodents are also sensitive to ultrasound
frequencies up to 150 kHz (Hurst 1999).
DErchia, A. M., Gissi, C., Pesole, G. et al (1996) The guinea pig is
not a rodent. Nature 381, 597599.
Donnelly, T. (1990) Rabbits and rodents. Laboratory animal science,
University of Sydney Proceedings 142: Anatomy and physiology.
Sydney, NSW: University of Sydney. pp. 369381.
Ebino, K. Y. (1993) Studies on coprophagy in experimental animals.
Experimental Animals (Tokyo) 42(1), 19.
Girardier, L. (1983) Brown fat: An energy dissipating tissue.
In L. Girardier & M. J. Stock (eds.), Mammalian thermogenesis.
London: Chapman & Hall. pp. 5091.
Harkness, J. E., & Wagner, J. E. (1995) Biology and husbandry the
rabbit. The biology and medicine of rabbits and rodents, 4th edn.
Baltimore: William & Wilkins. pp. 1330.
Hart, J. S. (1971) Comparative physiology of thermoregulation,
Rodents. In G. C. Causey (ed.), Mammals. Vol. 2. New York:
Academic Press. pp. 2130.
Hurst, J. L. (1999) Introduction to rodents. In T. Poole (ed.),
The UFAW Handbook on the care and management of laboratory
animals, 7th edn. Vol. 1. Oxford: Blackwell Science. pp. 262274.
King, G. M., & Custance, D. R. (1982) Colour atlas of vertebrate
anatomy. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific. The rat; pp. 6.16.18.
Nowak, R. M. (ed.) (1999a) Walkers mammals of the world,
6th edn. Vol. 11. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Express.
Order Carnivora; pp. 632634.
Nowak, R. M. (ed.) (1999b) Walkers mammals of the world,
6th edn. Vol. 11. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Express.
Order Rodentia; pp. 12431244.
Nowak, R. M. (ed.) (1999c) Walkers mammals of the world,
6th edn. Vol. 11. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Express.
Order Lagomorpha; pp. 17151721.
Nowak, R. M. (ed.) (1999d) Walkers mammals of the world,
6th edn. Vol. 11. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Express.
Leporidae; pp. 17291731.
Vaughan, T. A. (ed.) (1986a) Mammology, 3rd edn. Philadelphia:
Saunders College Publishing. Order Carnivora; pp. 154161.
Vaughan, T. A. (ed.) (1986b) Mammology, 3rd edn. Philadelphia:
Saunders College Publishing. Order Rodentia; pp. 244277.
Vaughan, T. A. (ed.) (1986c) Mammology, 3rd edn. Philadelphia:
Saunders College Publishing. Order Lagomorpha; pp. 277283.
Wiggs, R. B., & Lobprise, H. B. (1995) Dental anatomy and
physiology of pet rodents and lagomorphs. In D. A. Crossley & S.
Penman (eds.), BSAVA Manual of small animal dentistry.
Gloucester, UK: BSAVA. pp. 6874.
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KEY POI NTS
Rabbits and Rodents
Acute sense of hearing, smell, and touch
High surface area to body weight resulting in
susceptibility to rapid dehydration and hypoglycemia
Fast metabolism resulting in high oxygen and food intake
Constantly growing molars in rabbits, guinea pigs, and
chinchillas hence increased incidence of dental
problems in these species
Larynx placed high in oropharynx making them obligate
nose breathers
Cecotrophy is normal behavior (especially in herbivores)
REFERENCES
Crossley, D. A. (2003) Oral biology and disorders of lagomorphs.
Veterinary Clinics of North America Exotic Animal Practice 6(3),
629659.
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INTRODUCTION
Origins of the rabbit
The rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculi) originally came from the
Iberian peninsula but was introduced to the rest of Europe
over 2000 years ago by the Romans who kept them in walled
gardens called leporaria. They were further domesticated
by French monks from the 5th to 6th centuries onwards
who feasted on the aquatic young in place of meat during
Lent (Batchelor 1999; Nowak 1999b). In the 12th century
the Normans brought the rabbit to England and Ireland and
they became common during the following two hundred years.
They were fully domesticated by the 17th century, initially
being used for game on the landlords estates, but they became
a popular source of food during the era of industrialization
(Batchelor 1999; Sandford 1996). In the Victorian era the
rabbit became popular as a childrens pet and entered the
realms of fiction in books like Alice in Wonderland, Peter
Rabbit, and Brer rabbit. During the two world wars there
were also mini-booms in keeping rabbits for food when
other sources of food were scarce (Sandford 1996).
As it spread throughout Europe, the rabbit was such a
successful breeder that the early explorers carried it as a
food source and released it on remote oceanic islands. It
was introduced to South America in the mid-18th century
and to Australia and New Zealand in the late 19th century,
where the absence of predators meant it rapidly reached
pest proportions (Bell 1999). Although released in North
America it fortunately for farmers never managed to
survive there in the wild (Sandford 1996).
There are now over 70 recognized breeds of fancy and
Rex rabbits (Batchelor 1999) and it is ever popular as a pet,
and also for farming and laboratory research. The first set
of experiments on rabbits was in 1852 when an Austrian
physician fed deadly nightshade to rabbits and found that
60% of them showed no ill effects (Brewer & Cruise 1994;
Stein & Walshaw 1996). This led to the discovery of the
rabbit enzyme atropinesterase that hydrolyses atropine,
thereby reducing the effect of atropine in this species. The
two parts of the taxonomic name of the rabbit, Oryctolagus
cuniculus, translate from the Latin as burrowing hare and
underground passage, respectively.
Longevity and size
The average life span of rabbits is 710 years. They vary in
size, depending on breed, ranging from the 7 kg Flemish
Giant to the 1 kg Dwarf Polish or Dutch breeds (Batchelor
1999; Harkness & Wagner 1995).
THERMOREGULATION
The normal body temperature is 38.539.5 C (Brewer &
Cruise 1994). Rabbits are extremely sensitive to heat so
should be housed at between 15 and 21 C (Batchelor
1999). They cannot sweat and have an inefficient salivation
and panting mechanism. In the wild, they cool down by
seeking shade in their burrows or stretching out to increase
body surface area. The long ears are also essential for heat
dispersion, having a countercurrent arteriovenous shunt. In
fact, directly cooling the ears causes a drop in body core
temperature and vice versa (Brewer & Cruise 1994;
Cheeke 1987c).
High temperatures also inhibit drinking and panting,
which can hasten dehydration and be fatal. Rabbits are also
sensitive to low humidity but, as underground burrows are
naturally quite humid, high humidity levels are not a
problem.
Unlike rodents, adult rabbits possess no brown fat and so
they shiver when cold and retain body heat by shunting
warm blood from the ears to warm the body core. They
also adopt a hunched posture and huddle together to
decrease the collective surface area (Cheeke 1987c).
GENERAL EXTERNAL ANATOMY
There are four main fur types. These are based on fur
length and range from the Rex and Satin at 12 mm, to
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normal rabbits at 30 mm and the Angora rabbit at as long
as 120 mm. Normal rabbits have stiff, long guard hairs with
a soft underfur while Rex and Satin breeds have guard hairs
as short, or shorter, than the undercoat.
There are hairless areas on the nose, part of the scrotum,
and in the inguinal areas in both sexes. Rabbits do not have
footpads and the toes and metatarsals are covered in coarse
fur. The rabbit stands plantigrade, with the whole area
from hock to toe in contact with the ground, but becomes
digitigrade when running (Fig. 8.2).
Head and neck
The rabbit has long funnel-like ears and the pinna is com-
posed of a thin layer of skin overlying elastic cartilage. It is
freely movable and capable of independent action. Inside the
ear canal a cartilaginous ridge, the tragus, separates the ear
canal from a blind-ended diverticulum. Sebaceous glands are
present in the skin. The pinnae represent 12% of the rabbits
body surface and so are a major site for heat loss and gain
(Brewer & Cruise 1994; Cruise & Nathan 1994). There is
a highly visible central artery and peripheral veins, which
form large arteriovenous shunts when heated (Fig. 8.1).
There is a well-developed third eyelid, which covers the
eye during anesthesia or sleep. In low light the pupils dilate
widely to allow for increased retinal sensitivity (Cruise &
Nathan 1994). Rabbit eyes readily detect motion and are
particularly sensitive to blues and greens at twilight (Hark-
ness & Wagner 1995). The mouth is very small. The upper
lip has a median cleft or philtrum that curves to the right
and left around the nose hence the term harelip. The
neck has a pendulous skin fold called the dewlap, which is
more pronounced in the doe and certain breeds (Fig. 8.2).
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Figure 8.1 The rabbit ears represent 12% of surface area so are a
major source of heat exchange. There is a highly visible central artery and
peripheral veins which form large arteriovenous shunts when heated.
Figure 8.2 Rabbit doe showing the dewlap, which is prone to wet
dermatitis.
The dewlap is often a site of wet dermatitis. This is caused by
increased salivation due to dental pain, continual wetting of
the skin from water bowls and poor hygiene of bedding.
Obese animals, or does with large dewlaps, are more likely
to suffer from this problem (Cruise & Nathan 1994).
CLINICAL NOTE
External genitalia
The male has a rounded penile sheath and a round urethra
with oblong scrotal sacs on each side. The penis can easily
be extruded. The female vulva appears triangular and has a
slitlike orifice (Fig. 8.3). The mammary glands (usually
eight in number) are located along the thoracic and inguinal
region. Only the female has nipples (Cruise & Nathan
1994). In the perineal region of both sexes there are two
hairless patches lateral to the anus that contain the waxy
inguinal glands.
SKELETAL SYSTEM
The skeleton of the pet rabbit is fragile in comparison with
its heavy musculature (Fig. 8.4). For example, in the New
Zealand White rabbit the skeleton accounts for 6%, while
the muscles total 56% of body mass (Jelenko et al. 1971).
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The vertebral formula is C7, T1213, L7, S4, C1516
(Cruise & Nathan 1994). The costal cartilages of the first
seven ribs (true ribs) articulate with the sternum. The 7th
to 9th ribs have attached costal cartilages while the 10th to
12th ribs are floating. There are seven sternebrae. The
Rabbits
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If the rabbits spine is unsupported while being handled
the heavy hindquarters twist about the lumbrosacral junc-
tion to cause fractures (Harkness & Wagner 1995). L67 is
a common site for spinal fractures, especially in young
rabbits.
Clavicle
Humerus
Radius
Carpus
Metacarpals
Ulna
Suprahamate
process
Scapula
Sternum
Femur
Patella
Fibula
Tibia
Fused tibiofibula
Metatarsals
Tarsus
Calcaneus
Ischium
Coccygeal
vertebrae
Sacrum
6th lumbar vertebra
Ilium
Phalanges
Phalanges
(a) (b)
Urogenital orifice
Anus
Scrotal sac
Prepuce
Figure 8.3 External genitalia.
(a) Male the urethra is round and the penis can be extruded.
(b) Female the vulva is triangular with a slitlike orifice.
Figure 8.4 Skeleton of the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small
laboratory animals. Vol. 1. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
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transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae are long and
narrow (Okerman 1994).
The pectoral girdle contains the scapulae and small
paired clavicles. The scapula has a much more triangular
infraspinous fossa than that in the cat, which is more
rounded. The acromion process has a bony projection
jutting at right angles, which is called the superhamate
process (Fig. 8.5) (Okerman 1994). The carpus has two
rows: four bones proximally and five distally (Fig. 8.6).
There are five digits and each has three phalanges, except
for the first digit, which has a shorter metacarpal and only
two phalanges (Cruise & Nathan 1994).
The rabbit has a small accessory bone called the os
acetabulum, which helps form the acetabulum, along with
the ischium and ilium (Cruise & Nathan 1994). The
obdurator foramina are oval in shape. The femur articulates
only with the tibia; the thin, blade-like fibula is fused with
the tibia for over half its length (Cruise & Nathan 1994;
Okerman 1994)(Fig. 8.7). There are six tarsal bones
arranged in three rows: the proximal row contains the two
large bones, the tarsus and calcaneus; the middle row has
one central bone, and the distal row has three bones (the
2nd, 3rd, and 4th tarsal bones) (Fig. 8.8). Metatarsals 25
are well developed, with a rudimentary metatarsal 1. The
four digits each have three phalanges (Cruise & Nathan
1994).
CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
The heart rate can vary from 180 to 250 beats per minute.
It is relatively small and the right atrioventricular valve has
only 2 cusps, making the term tricuspid incorrect. The
pulmonary artery is thickened and more muscular than in
dogs and cats. Rabbits have a simple conduction system and
the sinoatrial node consists merely of a small group of cells
generating impulses; this is why they were used in the first
pacemaker experiments (Cruise & Nathan 1994).
Unlike the dog, which has significant anastomoses
between the internal and external jugular vein, the main
vessel for return of blood from the head is the external
jugular vein. Therefore, damage or ligation of this vein in
rabbits means the eye is subject to proptosis. The same
pattern also occurs with the external and internal carotid
artery (Donnelly 1997).
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Spine of scapula
Supraspinous fossa
Coracoid process
Clavicle
Humerus
Infraspinous fossa
Acromion
Suprahamate process
Hamate process
Olecranon
Ulna Radius
Figure 8.5 Left shoulder of the rabbit the acromion process has the
bony superhamate process jutting at right angles. The infraspinous fossa is
more triangular than in the cat. From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak,
J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small laboratory animals. Vol. 1.
Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
Figure 8.6 Dorsal view of left carpus of the rabbit. From Popesko, P.,
Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small
laboratory animals. Vol. 1. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
Radius
Radial carpal bone
Carpal bone 1
Metacarpal 1
Carpal bone 2
Carpal bone 3
Accessory carpal bone
Intermediate carpal bone
Ulna carpal bone
Central carpal bone
Ulna
Carpal bone 4
Metacarpals
l
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lll
lV
V
l to V = digits of forelimb
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Venepuncture sites
The blood volume of a rabbit is 5570 ml/kg (Benson &
Paul-Murphy 1999; Donnelly 1997). For blood sampling
the best sites are the central auricular artery and jugular
vein. Smaller samples (<0.5 ml) can be taken from the
marginal ear vein, cephalic or lateral saphenous vein,
although they tend to collapse under negative pressure
(Benson & Paul-Murphy 1999; Stein & Walshaw 1996).
Blood cells
Erythrocyte life span is directly related to metabolic rate so
smaller animals like rabbits and rodents have short-lived
erythrocytes. Rabbit neutrophils stain pink and are called
heterophils. The rabbit is unique in that is routinely has
circulating basophils that can represent up to 30% of circu-
lating leukocytes (Benson & Paul-Murphy 1999; Harkness
& Wagner 1995; Percy & Barthold 2001). The lymphocyte,
however, is the most prevalent white blood cell (up to
60%). Rabbits with infections do not show an elevated total
white cell count but instead show a heterophilia with
relative lymphopenia (Benson & Paul-Murphy 1999).
Rabbits
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Tibia
Central tarsal bone
Os calcaneus
Metatarsal bones
ll
lll
lV
V
ll to V = digits of hindlimb
Talus
2nd tarsal bone 3rd tarsal bone
4th tarsal bone
Figure 8.7 This rabbit had a medial luxating patella of the left stifle
which needed surgical correction. In rabbits there is a degree of fusion of
the fibula and tibia.
Figure 8.8 Dorsal view of left tarsus of the rabbit. From Popesko, P.,
Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small labo-
ratory animals. Vol. 1. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
The most visible blood vessel in the ear is the central straight
auricular artery. Injections or fluids into this vessel could be
fatal so the smaller and less visible marginal vein should be
used instead.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
IMMUNE SYSTEM
The thymus gland remains large, even into adult life. It lies
cranial to the heart and extends forward into the thoracic
inlet (Cruise & Nathan 1994). The spleen is small, dark
red, flat, and elongated and lies along the greater curvature
of the stomach. Lymphoid tissue is present in the tonsils,
sacculus rotundus, appendix, and Peyer patches in the
small intestine (Cruise & Nathan 1994). This extensive gut
associate lymphoid tissue (GALT) occupies 50% of all
lymphoid tissue and may account for the relatively small
spleen (Okerman 1994).
RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Upper respiratory tract
There are sensory pads at the entrance of each nostril,
making the rabbit very sensitive to touching that area
(Nowak 1999a). There are 20 to 25 tactile vibrissae located
on each side of the upper lip. The nostril twitches at a rate
of 20 to 150 twitches per minute but is still when the
rabbit is totally relaxed (Brewer & Cruise 1994). The
turbinate bones have the vomeronasal organ and olfactory
epithelium, giving rabbits their acute sense of smell. The
glottis is small and often covered by the tongue. Intubation
is difficult due to the small glottis, long tongue, narrow
oropharynx, and laryngospasm (Brewer & Cruise 1994;
Cruise & Nathan 1994).
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Rabbits are obligate nose breathers (Cruise & Nathan 1994)
so any damage to the nares or turbinates can be serious.
Avoid touching the nares because sensory pads there make
them acutely sensitive to touch.
CLINICAL NOTE
Lower respiratory tract
The thorax is small in contrast to the large abdomen (Harkness
& Wagner 1995)(Figs. 8.9 and 8.10). The thymus, which
persists in the adult, lies ventral to the heart and extends
forward into the thoracic inlet. The lungs are divided into
cranial, middle, and caudal lung lobes. The left cranial lobe
is much smaller than the right due to the presence of the
heart (Cruise & Nathan 1994). Rabbits have very thin pleura
and, unlike other domestic mammals, there are no septa
dividing the lung into lobules. Hence, pneumonia is not so
localized as in other species.
The respiratory rate is 3060 per minute. Rabbits at rest
respire mainly using muscular contractions of the diaphragm
and do not use their intercostal muscles for respiration
(Brewer & Cruise 1994).
Figure 8.9 Lateral radiograph of rabbit thorax and abdomen. Unlike
carnivores, gas in the abdominal viscera is normal for herbivores.
Figure 8.10 Ventrodorsal radiograph of rabbit showing relative size of
thorax and abdomen. The thorax should be raised above the abdomen
during anesthesia to prevent compression from the enormous weight of
the cecum.
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DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Feeding patterns
Rabbits are crepuscular, feeding at dusk and early morning.
Although they tolerate bitter food like alfalfa and thyme
well, they show preference for sweet foods like molasses
and sucrose (Carpenter 1956; Harkness 1990; Harkness
& Wagner 1995). They eat to satisfy calorie requirements
and consumption of food increases at lower temperatures
(Cheeke 1987f). Conversely, it decreases at high temper-
atures.
The rabbit is a non-ruminant herbivore with a large
hindgut. Unlike ruminants, which break down their food
by chewing the cud, rabbit use browsing behavior and
cecotrophy to achieve high food conversion (Cheeke 1994);
this makes them the most efficient users of plant protein,
converting 70 to 80% of plant protein into food (Harkness
1990; Harkness & Wagner 1995).
Browsing
Unlike the grazing horse or cow, which eats the entire plant,
the rabbit selects the most nutritious part of the plant, favor-
ing young, succulent plants over mature, coarse growth
(Cheeke 1987f). This browsing behavior (also seen in giraffes
and deer) helps an animal of small body weight sustain its
high metabolic rate (Cheeke 1987a, 1994). Rabbits ingest
coarse fiber only to stimulate gut motility and, unlike horses
(which carry fiber for up to three days) rapidly excrete it,
thus obviating the need to carry vast quantities around
(Brooks 1997; Harkness & Wagner 1995; Jenkins 2000).
The rabbits hindgut consists of a vast cecum, where
food is fermented, and the proximal colon, which mechan-
ically separates the high and low fiber particles. High fiber
particles are eliminated fast while the nutrient-rich particles
are sent back to the cecum to be made into cecotrophs. These
high fiber particles, known as the scratch factor in the
French rabbit industry are essential for the normal func-
tioning of the rabbit gastrointestinal process (Brooks 1997).
Prehension of food
Rabbits have a blind spot directly in front of the mouth so
cannot see food placed directly there. Instead it uses its
sensitive prehensile lips and vibrissae for food discrimination
and prehension (Jenkins 2000; Whitehouse & Grove 1968).
Rabbits
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For cardiopulmonary resuscitation it is important to pull the
tongue forward away from the glottis. As the diaphragm is
the main muscle of respiration, hold the rabbits head up and
down every 12 s to stimulate diaphragmatic breathing
(Brewer & Cruise 1994).
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POI NTS
Avoid touching nostrils as they are acutely sensitive and
rabbits are obligate nose breathers.
The spine is fragile and fractures at L67 are common.
The diaphragm is the most important muscle for
breathing so this must be taken into account when giving
CPR.
The thorax is small in comparison to the vast size of the
abdomen, so avoid any pressure from viscera during
anesthetics (Fig. 8.10).
Neutrophils are called heterophils as they stain pink.
Rabbit Cow
Digest cellulose Digest cellulose
Cecal fermentation Rumen fermentation
Main VFA is acetic acid Main VFA is propionic acid
Low gut retention time Holds food for 4 longer than rabbit
Bacteroides spp. microflora Lactobacillus spp. microflora
Table 8.1 Major differences in gastrointestinal tract between
rabbit and ruminant (cow)
VFA, volatile fatty acid
Rabbits fed free choice will select concentrates (Cheeke
1987a; Harcourt-Brown 1996). This ability to select high
protein and carbohydrate over fiber means that pet rabbits
fed only a high concentrate diet may not get enough fiber to
stimulate gut motility and will suffer consequently from
intestinal stasis (Cheeke 1994).
CLINICAL NOTE
Rabbits do not use their incisor teeth for prehending food, so
in cases of severe incisor malocclusion it is possible to extract
all incisor teeth. They will no longer be able to slice their food
but this is rarely a problem for the pet rabbit (Fig. 8.16).
CLINICAL NOTE
Oral cavity
The mouth aperture is small and designed for nibbling. The
rabbits teeth are developed for the high fiber herbivorous
diet. Wild rabbits have brown staining on the crowns of the
teeth from feeding on natural grasses. The dental formula
is 2/1,0/0,3/2, 3/3 = 28. Like all Lagomorphs, rabbits have
three pairs of incisors: two upper and one lower (Crossley
2003; Vaughan 1986). The second upper incisors are rudi-
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
mentary and called peg teeth and lie just behind the upper
incisors. At rest, the lower incisors should rest just behind
the upper incisors (Fig. 8.12).
There are no canines and the gap between the incisors and
premolars is called the diastema (Fig. 8.11). The furred cheeks
can be folded into this space, separating the incisor teeth
from the oropharynx. The premolars and molars function as
one unit and are often referred to as cheek teeth (Fig. 8.15).
Branches of the lingual artery run close to the lower cheek
teeth so must be avoided during dental surgery.
The mandible is united by a strong fibrous symphysis and
is narrower than the maxilla (Fig. 8.13 and 8.14). Both incisor
and molar teeth are rootless (aradicular) and constantly
growing at a rate of approximately 2 mm per week. The
incisors help to slice the food, which is then chewed to a
bolus by the action of the cheek teeth, which along with
the tongue move the bolus caudally so that all teeth get
equal chewing action (Crossley 2003).
Mastication
The flexible temporomandibular joint allows the jaw to
open and close and also move rostrally, caudally, and later-
ally (Fig. 8.11). The cheek teeth arcades function as one unit
and grind the long stem fibers into small food boluses, which
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Lacrimal
foramen
Turbinates
Nasal bone
Maxilla
Incisive
bone
Peg tooth
Upper
incisor
Lower incisor
Diastema
Premolar Body of
mandible Molar
Lacrimal
bone
Zygomatic process
of frontal bone
Frontal
bone
Parietal
bone
Condylar process
External
occipital
protuberance
External
acoustic
opening
Tympanic bulla
Angular
process
Ramus of
mandible
Zygomatic
arch
Occipital condyle
Optic
foramen
Normal upper incisors have a vertical groove running along
the length of the tooth and have smooth white enamel. If
horizontal grooves are visible in the enamel it can be a sign of
dental disease due to poor diet (Harcourt-Brown 1996, 1997).
CLINICAL NOTE
Mandibular prognathism means an abnormally long jaw
relative to the length of the maxilla. It is inherited as an
autosomal recessive trait and leads initially to edge-to-edge
apposition and blunting of the chisel edges. Later, the lower
incisors protrude rostral to the upper incisors (Fig. 8.17).
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POI NTS
Rabbits are highly efficient food convertors.
Fiber is essential for gut motility.
Browsing feeding means rabbits will selectively prefer
high concentrates.
Incisors and molars are continually growing. Malocclusion
results secondary to an insufficiently fibrous and abrasive
diet.
Figure 8.11 Lateral view of skull and mandible. From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small laboratory
animals. Vol. 1. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
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Rabbits
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can then be swallowed. The jaws appose only one side at a
time and rotate laterally at a rate of 120 times a minute.
The tongue is utilized to make sure all food is thoroughly
masticated. Cecotrophs are not chewed but swallowed
intact (Brewer & Cruise 1994).
Tongue
The tongue is very long and has an elevated region caudally
called the lingual torus. Numerous papillae along its length
give it a roughened appearance. Four types are present:
vallate, foliate, fungiform, and filiform; all but the last con-
tain taste buds (Crossley 2003). Unlike the rat, the rabbits
has paired tonsils.
Figure 8.12 Lateral radiograph of skull and mandible.
Figure 8.14 Dorsal radiograph of skull (slightly rotated).
Figure 8.13 Dorsal view of skull.
Nasal
bone
Incisive bone
Lacrimal bone
Frontal
bone
Caudal supraorbital
process
Parietal bone
Interparietal
bone
External
occipital
protuberance
Occipital bone
External auditory
meatus
Squamosal bone
Zygomatic arch
Rostral supraorbital
process
Maxilla
Turbinates
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Salivary glands
There are four pairs of salivary glands: the parotid, zygo-
matic, mandibular, and sublingual (Jenkins 2000). The sub-
lingual is a minor gland as the major sublingual is not present.
The zygomatic gland lies just below the lacrimal gland in
the anteroventral angle of the orbit (Cruise & Nathan
1994). Amylase is secreted by the glands in response to
food entering the mouth (Brewer & Cruise 1994).
Esophagus
The esophagus has three layers of striated muscle, which,
unlike in the dog and humans, extend all the way to the
cardia of the stomach. There are no mucous glands in the
esophagus. The cardia has a well-developed sphincter and
is positioned so that the rabbit cannot vomit (Brewer &
Cruise 1994; Cruise & Nathan 1994)(Fig. 8.18).
Abdominal cavity
Rabbit muscles are pale red in comparison to the darker red
of cats and dogs (Okerman 1994). There is scant
subcutaneous tissue on the midline. The linea alba is thin
and lies in very close proximity to the cecum and bladder.
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Maxilla
Incisive bone
Zygomatic
process of
frontal bone
External acoustic
meatus
Tympanic bulla
Palatine process
Zygomatic
process
Foramen magnum
Figure 8.15 Ventral view of skull. From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., &
Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small laboratory animals. Vol.
1. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
Figure 8.16 Close up of rabbit with severe incisor malocclusion show-
ing upper and lower incisors and peg teeth. (Photo by Claire Nuttall)
Figure 8.17 Lateral radiograph of skull of dwarf rabbit with incisor and
molar malocclusion secondary to a combination of congenital mandibular
prognathism and poor diet since birth.
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Stomach
The stomach is J-shaped, thin walled and lies on the left
side. The cardia is lined by non-glandular stratified
squamous epithelium. The fundus is glandular and its
parietal cells secrete acid and intrinsic factor; the chief cells
secrete pepsinogen. The pylorus is heavily muscled with a
well-developed sphincter (Cruise & Nathan 1994). The
stomach normally contains a mixture of food, fur, and
fluid, even 24 hours post feeding. The pH 12 of the adult
rabbit makes the stomach and small intestine almost sterile
(Jenkins 2000)(Fig. 8.18).
Neonatal stomach
The neonate stomach has a pH 5.06.5 (Brewer & Cruise
1994; Harkness & Wagner 1995; Jenkins 2000) and a
stomach full of milk curd. This would make an ideal breed-
ing ground for bacteria but for the fact that, in the first
3 weeks of life, it is acidified by the production of milk oil.
This consists of octanoic and decanoic fatty acids produced
by the enzymatic reaction of the suckling rabbits digestive
enzymes with the does milk (Harkness 1990; Harkness &
Wagner 1995). Hand-reared rabbits lack this protective
antimicrobial factor, making them very susceptible to infec-
tions. From about 2 weeks of age young rabbits also begin
to acquire some gut flora by eating the does cecotrophs. By
the time milk oil production ceases at 46 weeks some
organisms will have managed to colonize the cecum to
produce the hindgut fermentation. At weaning the pH
drops to adult pH 12, which keeps the stomach relatively
microbe free (Brooks 1997; Cheeke 1987a).
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When performing abdominal surgery, elevate the linea alba
well to avoid incising the viscera underneath. The tendon is
so thin that stitching the midline means stitches in the rectus
abdominis muscle. On opening into the cavity, the main
organs (cecum and colon) run obliquely from the right liver
lobes, caudally to the left side of the bladder (Fig. 8.21).
CLINICAL NOTE
Pylorus
Esophagus
Lesser
curvature
Proximal
duodenum
Pyloric
antrum
Body
Omentum
Fundus
Greater curvature
Cardia
Figure 8.18 External view of rabbit stomach
showing location of cardia in the center of
lesser curvature. This means that rabbits can-
not vomit so need not be fasted prior to
anesthesia. From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., &
Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of
small laboratory animals. Vol. 1. Aylesbury,
UK: Wolfe with permission.
Gas distension after death due to autolysis often ruptures
the thin stomach wall, so this is a common and normal
postmortem finding. The presence of hair in the stomach is
normal and due to rabbit grooming behavior. However, large
hair impactions (hairballs or trichobezoars) are indicative of
dehydration and lack of gastric motility (Brooks 1997;
Donnelly 1997).
CLINICAL NOTE
Weaning is a critical time in the rabbits life. The protective
effect of milk oil has waned and the pH has not yet reached
the adult pH 12. If the gut is not colonized by healthy
bacteria, coliforms and clostridia can proliferate causing rapid
enterotoxemia. This is easily precipitated by a low fiber, high
starch diet (Brooks 1997).
CLINICAL NOTE
Small intestine
The small intestine is relatively short and comprises only
12% of the gastrointestinal volume. This is the site of
digestion and absorption of sugars and protein from food
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
items, as well as of vitamins, proteins, and fatty acids from
the cecotrophs (Cheeke 1987a). Moitilin is secreted by the
endocrine cells of the duodenum and jejunum and helps
to stimulate gastrointestinal motility in the small intestine,
colon, and rectum (but not in the cecum). High carbohy-
drate diets inhibit its secretion and lead to gut stasis prob-
lems; fats, however, stimulate moitilin release (Brewer &
Cruise 1994).
The duodenum lies at an acute angle to the liver and can
be compressed by it. Unlike in most mammals, the bile
duct and pancreatic duct enter the duodenum at widely
separated points: the bile duct near the beginning and the
pancreatic duct at the end of the duodenum (Cruise &
Nathan 1994).
sacculus rotundus, which is unique to the rabbit (Fig. 8.22).
This lies in the left caudal abdominal quadrant and is often
called the cecal tonsil; it has many lymph follicles that give
it a honeycomb appearance. This opens into the ampulla
coli at the junction between the ileum, colon, and cecum.
A weak valve, the ileocecal valve, allows the chyme to pass
one way into the cecum (Cruise & Nathan 1994).
Hindgut
The hindgut is well developed and consists of the cecum
and colon (Figs. 8.19 and 8.20).
Cecum
The rabbit cecum is the largest of all animals, relative to
size, with 10 times the capacity of the stomach and con-
taining 40% of the intestinal content (Cruise & Nathan
1994; Jenkins 2000). It is very thin walled and coils on
itself in three gyral folds before ending in a blind-ended,
thick-walled tube called the vermiform appendix. The
appendix is rich in lymphoid tissue and also secretes
bicarbonate to buffer the cecal acids and water to form the
semi-fluid cecal paste (Harkness & Wagner 1995). Unlike
many other herbivores, the main cecal microorganisms in
the rabbit are not lactobacillus but Bacteroides spp., plus
ciliated protozoa, yeasts, and small numbers of Escherichia
coli and clostridia (Cheeke 1987a; Harkness & Wagner
1995).
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Rabbits are unable to vomit and the duodenum becomes
easily compressed by the liver. Stomach distension and life-
threatening bloat can occur with hepatomegaly or if the
stomach becomes impacted by hair.
CLINICAL NOTE
The jejunum is slightly less thick and vascular than the
duodenum. Aggregates of lymphoid tissue (Peyer patches)
in the lamina propria become most prominent towards the
ileum. The terminal ileum enlarges into a dilation called the
Left lung
Heart
Liver
Stomach
Jejunum
1st cecal gyrus
3rd cecal gyrus
Urinary bladder
Spleen Left kidney
Distal colon
Duodenum
Proximal
colon
Figure 8.19 Left lateral view of abdominal viscera (with some ribs removed). From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of
anatomy of small laboratory animals. Vol. 1. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
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The cecum acts like a large fermentation vat where the
microbial flora break down cellulose and proteins into
volatile fatty acids (VFAs) which are then directly absorbed
across the cecal epithelium into the bloodstream. Its contents
are semi-fluid and have an alkaline pH in the morning and
acid pH in the mid afternoon. Changes in pH cause trans-
faunation, which is a change in the type of microorganisms
present (Brewer & Cruise 1994).
Unlike ruminants, the predominant VFA in the rabbit is
acetate, regardless of diet, followed by butyrate and pro-
pionate. This is caused by the dominance of Bacteroides
spp. instead of lactobacillus in the cecum (Carabano &
Piquer 1998; Cheeke 1987d) (Table 8.1).
Cecotrophy
Coprophagy is the consumption of feces; cecotrophy refers
to the consumption of cecal pellets. Cecotrophy starts
between 2 and 3 weeks of age when kits start to eat solids
(Carabano & Piquer 1998). They start by ingesting mater-
nal cecotrophs first. Cecotrophy is essential for rabbit health
and the lack of cecotrophy leads to a lower level of nutrients
and reduced availability of protein and B and K vitamins
(Eden 1940).
Cecotrophs (or night stools) are formed in the proximal
colon and cecum. While the high fiber pellets (>0.5 mm in
size) do not enter the cecum, but are excreted rapidly, the
fine fiber particles and fluid remain in the cecum to form
high nutrient particles. These become coated with mucus
Rabbits
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3rd cecal gyrus
1st cecal gyrus
Duodenum
Abdominal wall
Xiphoid cartilage
Liver
Stomach
Ileum
Proximal colon
Ampulla coli 2nd cecal gyrus
Bladder
Figure 8.20 Diagram showing ventral view of abdominal viscera.
The cecal wall is very thin and can tear easily so it is important
to avoid handling, or even touching it, during surgery if at all
possible.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
produced by the goblet cells of the colon before passing out
through the anus as grape-like clusters. They are ingested
directly from the anus by anal reflex and are swallowed
whole without mastication. When they reach the fundus of
the stomach, where further fermentation takes place over
36 hours, the mucus coating protects them from digestion
(Cheeke 1987a).
Circadian rhythm
Although wild rabbits produce cecotrophs during the day
when sleeping in their burrow, pet rabbits tend to produce
hard pellets 4 hours post feeding and cecotrophs 8 hours
post feeding, which tends to be at night.
Effect of diet on cecotrophy
High fiber diets are essential for cecotrophy. Low fiber
diets increase cecal retention time, leading to hypomotility
of the gut, and reduces the amount of cecotrophs pro-
duced. Indigestible fibers like cellulose and lignin (crude
fiber digestibility of 15%) are the best way of preventing
enteritis as they stimulate most hindgut motility. Non-
lignified fiber like beet pulp (crude fiber digestibility of
60%) are less effective (Cheeke 1994).
A low protein diet encourages the rabbit to eat more
cecotrophs in order to alleviate the deficiency whereas a
diet high in protein and low in fiber reduces their con-
sumption (Cheeke 1987b).
High carbohydrate diets produce two-fold problems.
Excess glucose provides a medium for the bacteria like
Clostridium spiroforme and E. coli to colonize. These diets
also produce excess VFAs in the cecum, leading to a drop
in pH, which in turn inhibits normal flora and allows
pathogens to proliferate (Cheeke 1987g, 1994). High starch
foods like maize (corn) is the least satisfactory; oats and
barley are better as they are higher in fiber while being
lower in starch (Cheeke 1987d, 1994).
Fats can be used as source of energy without causing
cecal hyperfermentation. Full-fat soybeans and oilseeds are
good sources and vegetable oil is better than animal fat
(Cheeke 1994).
Colon
Although anatomically the colon has an ascending, trans-
verse, and descending portion, functionally it is divided
into a proximal part (approx. 50 cm) and a longer distal
part (approx. 90 cm) (Fig. 8.22). The proximal colon has
three parts: three longitudinal muscular bands called taenia
creating three haustra (sacculations), a single taenia/haustra
and the fusus coli. The distal colon has no sacculations
(Carabano & Piquer 1998; Ehrlein et al. 1983; Ruckebusch
& Hornicke 1997).
The fusus coli is unique to lagomorphs. It is a 58 cm
area of thickened circular muscle lined by thick mucosa
(Cruise & Nathan 1994). It is heavily supplied with
ganglion cells and is under the influence of aldosterone and
prostaglandins. It serves as a pacemaker, regulating the pas-
sage of ingesta into the distal colon. It controls three types
of colonic motility: segmental, peristaltic, and haustral and
it is these differing form of contractions which produce the
hard and soft feces (Ehrlein et al. 1983; Ruckebusch &
Hornicke 1997).
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Figure 8.21 Ventral view of abdominal viscera.
Colonic motility and cecotrophy are regulated by the
autonomic nervous system and aldosterone. This means that
any kind of stress, like surgery or diet change, increases
adrenaline (epinephrine), which can inhibit gastrointestinal
motility and lead to cecal stasis and abnormal cecotrophs
(Cheeke 1987g; Lebas et al. 1997a).
CLINICAL NOTE
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Production of hard feces
Segmental and haustral contractions in the proximal
colon (particularly of the single haustra) mechanically
separates the ingesta into solid indigestible particles
and liquid contents. The large, solid pellets pass down
in the middle of the lumen, further water is absorbed
and they are excreted as hard dry pellets. The liquid
fraction and smaller particles move to the periphery
into the haustrae where they are returned by antiperi-
stalsis into the cecum for further fermentation (Cheeke
1987a; Ehrlein et al. 1983; Ruckebusch & Hornicke
1997).
Production of soft feces (cecotrophs)
Segmental and haustral contractions are reduced and the
cecum contracts to expel a soft paste into the proximal
colon. Motility is decreased in the proximal colon under
prostaglandin influence but enhanced in the distal colon so
that the digesta passes rapidly down with no separation and
no water absorption (Ehrlein et al. 1983; Ruckebusch &
Hornicke 1997).
Rabbits
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Figure 8.22 Diagram of digestive tract of
the rabbit.
Athough vomiting is not possible and diarrhea is rare in adult
rabbits, decreased water and electrolyte absorption from the
colon with intestinal hypomotility leads rapidly to dehydration.
Consequently, fluid therapy is essential for rabbits with
gastrointestinal disease (Cheeke 1987g, 1994).
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POI NTS
Weanling rabbits become vulnerable as the protective
effect of mothers milk oil wanes.
The fusus coli controls separation of hard and soft feces.
Indigestible fiber (cellulose and lignin) is essential to drive
the gut.
High protein and high starch foods lead to gastrointestinal
tract motility problems.
High fiber and fats increase gastrointestinal tract motility.
Bacteroides spp. are the main bacteria of the hindgut.
Stress, via aldosterone, inhibits gastrointestinal motility,
leading to intestinal stasis.
Esophagus
Bile
Pylorus
Fundus
Body
Duodenum
Cecal
appendix
(13 cm)
Pancreas
Stomach
Jejunum
Small intestine (330 cm)
Cecum (40 cm)
Ileo-cecal valve
Proximal colon (50 cm)
Distal colon (90 cm)
Fusus coli
Rectum
Anus
Ileum
Sacculus rotundus
Ampulla coli
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Liver
The liver has four lobes with a deep cleft dividing it into
right and left lobes. Each lobe is then subdivided into medial
and lateral. The right lobe has two further subdivisions,
with the quadrate lobe in the midline and the caudate lobe
near the right kidney. This small lobe has a narrow attach-
ment to the hilar region of the liver and could be a site of
liver torsion.
The gall bladder is located very deep in the right anterior
lobule. The hepatic ducts unite to form the common bile
duct, which receives the cystic duct from the gall bladder
and enters the proximal part of the duodenum (Cruise &
Nathan 1994).
Rabbits secrete about seven times as much bile as a dog
of similar weight. (A 2 kg rabbit secretes 250 ml bile daily)
(Brewer & Cruise 1994). They resemble birds and reptiles
in that they secrete mainly biliverdin (63%) rather than
bilirubin. This is due to low levels of bilirubin reductase,
which reduces biliverdin to bilirubin (Cheeke 1987a; Jenkins
2000).
Kidney
The right kidney lies cranial to the left (Fig. 8.23). The rabbit
kidney is quite primitive in comparison to that in other
mammals. However, it has been extensively researched as
its kidney tubules can be easily removed with the basement
membrane intact, facilitating renal research. The kidneys
are unipapillate meaning that one papilla and calyx enter
the ureter (Brewer & Cruise 1994; Cruise & Nathan 1994).
A feature of the rabbit kidney is that, like neonatal
mammals, not all glomeruli are active at one time. This
means that a well hydrated rabbit can activate dormant
glomeruli and increase diuresis without having to increase
renal plasma flow and glomerular filtration rate (Brewer &
Cruise 1994; Cruise & Nathan 1994).
Reabsorption of bicarbonate from the renal tubules is not
as efficient as in other mammals due to the lack of carbonic
anhydrase. This enzyme catalyzes the conversion of carbon
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Anorexia in rabbits can rapidly lead to fatal hepatic lipidosis.
This is caused by prolonged hypoglycemia inducing lipolysis
of fat stores into fatty acids. When the body cannot
metabolize these excess free fatty acids they accumulate in
hepatocytes of the liver, literally turning it into lard. Obese
rabbits will already have some degree of fatty liver so even
mild anorexia can cause life-threatening hepatic lipidosis.
CLINICAL NOTE
Pancreas
This is a diffuse, irregular mass lying in the duodenum and
is relatively small. The pancreatic duct enters the distal
duodenum some 3540 cm from the bile duct (Cruise &
Nathan 1994).
URINARY SYSTEM
Water intake
Rabbits are thirsty animals. The average intake is 120 ml/kg
so a 2 kg rabbit will drink as much per day as a 10 kg dog
(Cheeke 1994; Harkness & Wagner 1995). The amount of
water will be influenced by the ambient temperature and
the composition and quantity of feed. Rabbits fed a lot of
fresh greens obviously will drink less (Brewer & Cruise
1994). Dry food diets and high fiber diets increase water
intake to moisten the ingesta in transit.
Rabbits will drink excessively if fasted and can drink as
much as 650% of normal fluid intake on the third day of
anorexia. This can result in sodium depletion (Brewer &
Cruise 1994; Lebas et al. 1997a).
A cardinal sign of dental disease can be polydipsia, secondary
to painful teeth causing anorexia.
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 8.23 Intravenous urogram in a 2-year-old rabbit with a long-
standing ureteral calculus. A benign embryonal nephroma had caused
hydronephrosis and hydroureter of the right kidney.
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dioxide to bicarbonate, and vice versa, acidifying luminal
fluid in the collecting ducts. As rabbits also produce high
levels of bicarbonate from bacterial fermentation this means
they easily get a surplus of bicarbonate and metabolic
alkalosis (Brewer & Cruise 1994). Rabbits consequently
excrete a much more alkaline urine than other animals like
rats (Cheeke 1987e).
Rabbits are also more vulnerable to acid loads because
they lack the normal mammalian renal ammonium buffer-
ing system. In most mammals metabolic acidosis (i.e., a
drop in serum pH or low bicarbonate) increases the rate of
ammonia, which then combines with hydrogen ions and is
excreted as the buffer ammonium. This process only occurs
in the rabbit in response to low bicarbonate levels making
them susceptible to acidbase imbalances (Brewer & Cruise
1994; Cheeke 1987e).
Urine
Rabbits are less able to concentrate their urine and so pass
copious amounts. Urine volume varies widely with environ-
ment and animal, ranging from 20350 ml/kg per day, with
an average of about 130 ml/kg (Brewer & Cruise 1994).
The specific gravity is from 1.003 to 1.036 (average 1.015)
and it is alkaline with a pH 7.68.8 (lower in a fasting
rabbit). Occasional traces of protein and glucose may be
present. Crystals (triple phosphate, calcium carbonate) are
found in large quantities, but casts, epithelial cells, and
bacteria are usually absent.
Urine is the major route for excretion of magnesium and
calcium (Kennedy 1965). It is normally cream colored due
to the high levels of calcium carbonate but it can vary from
yellow to red in color. Plant pigments commonly produce a
bright red urine, which can be confused with hemorrhage
(Cheeke 1994).
Calcium metabolism
Calcium absorption and excretion is very different in rabbits
(Cheeke 1987e; Kennedy 1965). In most mammals calcium
absorption is related to the animals needs and is regulated
by the interaction of parathyroid hormone (PTH) with
vitamin D3. Low calcium levels stimulate PTH to produce
more Vitamin D3 in the kidney, which then acts on the gut
to increase calcium absorption. It also increases tubular
reabsorption of calcium from the kidneys and phosphorus
excretion. The reverse happens when calcium levels are high.
Rabbits, including wild rabbits, have a much higher
(3050%) plasma calcium level than most mammals; in fact
they frequently have blood plasma levels as high as that
seen in laying hens (Chapin & Smith 1967a; Cheeke 1994;
Kennedy 1965). Dietary calcium rapidly increases serum
calcium and decreases phosphorus (Chapin & Smith
1967a). This is controlled by rapid changes in PTH, which
stimulates passive absorption of calcium from the gut,
independent of Vitamin D (Fairham & Harcourt-Brown
1999; Kennedy 1965).
Excretion of calcium rises during hypercalcemia and
decreases with lowered serum levels. Unlike other mam-
mals that excrete calcium via the bile, rabbits excrete
calcium via the kidneys. In contrast to rats, which have
been shown to excrete 2% of dietary calcium in their urine,
rabbits can excrete up to 60% of that ingested (Cheeke &
Amber 1973). Phosphorus, however, is excreted through
the feces. The rabbit kidney has a fractional excretion of
calcium of 44.9% compared to 2% in most mammals. In
fact a 23 kg rabbit would excrete as much calcium as an
adult human. This is facilitated by a high level of plasma
calcium combined with a low rate of tubular reabsorption
(Buss & Bordeau 1984; Kennedy 1965).
The Ca:P ratio is not as critical in rabbits as in other species
as they are extremely tolerant of high calcium intakes. In
most vertebrates the ratio is usually about 2:1, but it has been
found that growing rabbits are not adversely affected by
diets as high in calcium as 12:1 (Chapin & Smith 1967a).
Rabbits
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Although rabbits are extremely tolerant of high calcium levels,
high levels of phosphorus could adversely affect bone
calcification and growth, so if a diet contains excess amounts
of phosphorus, like wheat bran, a calcium supplement may be
needed (Chapin & Smith 1967b).
CLINICAL NOTE
Rabbit fed high calcium diets excrete nearby all the calcium
via the urine. This combined with the alkaline pH can cause
precipitation of solutes and urolithiasis (Fig. 8.24)
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 8.24 Lateral radiograph of buck rabbit with large urolith
obstructing distal urethra. Intestinal ileus is present secondary to
anorexia and pain.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Vitamin D
The role of vitamin D in rabbits is still not fully evaluated
as even a three- to four-fold increase in Vitamin D has no
effect on serum calcium. Calcium levels are controlled
instead by renal homeostasis. A diet low in calcium was
found to decrease calcium excretion and increase phos-
phorus under the influence of elevated PTH levels in young
growing rabbits (Bordeau et al. 1988).
However, chronic deficiency of Vitamin D does lead to
mild hypocalcemia, elevated PTH and reduced excretion of
both calcium and phosphorus. It is thought that although
Vitamin D plays little role in passive intestinal absorption
with normal dietary calcium levels it does increase calcium
absorption by active transport when dietary calcium levels
are low. Vitamin D also regulates phosphorous metabolism,
leading to severe hypophosphatemia if deficient (Bordeau
& Schwer-Dymerski 1986).
Oversupplementation with calcium or Vitamin D could
lead to metastatic calcification of soft tissues like the aorta
and kidneys (Cheeke 1987e). As the kidney controls calcium
levels, renal damage could also impair excretion and cause
hypercalcemia and metastatic calcification.
Accessory glands
The seminal vesicles open into the prostatic section of the
urethra. The small paired bulbourethral glands form a bilobed
swelling in the dorsal wall of the urethra, just behind the
prostate (Cruise & Nathan 1994).
Female
The ovaries are elongated and located more caudally than in
cats and dogs. The oviducts are very long and coiled. The uterus
is duplex, being separate along its length and forming two
cervices, uniting only to form a long vagina (Figs. 8.25 and 8.26).
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Rabbit urine is normally cream colored due to the excess
calcium being excreted in the urine. Growing kits, pregnant
does or malnourished rabbits may have clear urine due to
increased calcium retention.
CLINICAL NOTE
KEY POI NTS
Unlike most mammals the main route of calcium
excretion is through the urine.
Rabbits naturally have high serum calcium levels, which is
in direct proportion to dietary calcium levels.
Efficient calcium absorption from the diet is independent
of Vitamin D.
Rabbits have a much higher fractional excretion of
calcium than other mammals.
REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
Male
The male has a rounded penile sheath with a round urethra.
They can be easily extruded in rabbits over 2-months-old.
On either side of the anogenital area are blind, hairless
inguinal sacs, which contain scent glands. The testes descend
at 10 weeks and the hairless scrotal sacs can be seen cranial
to the penis. They are relatively large with large epididymal
fat pads. There is no os penis (Donnelly 1997).
Left Right
Oval
ovaries
Convoluted
oviducts
Left cervix Right cervix
Vagina
Figure 8.26 Duplex uterus of the rabbit.
Figure 8.25 Rabbit ovariohysterectomy showing duplex uterus there
are two cervices and a large saccular vagina. The mesometrium is a site of
fat storage so early spaying is advised.
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It is colored bright pink and lies dorsal to the urinary bladder.
The mesometrium is a site of fat storage and, even in young
does, builds up fat tissue rapidly. The suspensory ligaments
are long, making exteriorization of the uterus easy. The
urethra enters the vagina via the vestibule, in the dorsal
wall of which is found the bulbourethral gland, while the
clitoris lies along the ventral surface (Cruise & Nathan
1994). The rabbit has only a minor anastomoses between
the uterine and ovarian vasculature, unlike the guinea pig
and rat where the arteries and veins share many common
associations (Del Campo & Ginther 1972).
Parturition
Within the last week of kindling estrogen increases as
progesterone declines, causing hair loss to line the nest.
Oxytocin peaks prior to parturition. Parturition usually
occurs in the early morning and normally takes about
30 minutes, although young have been born hours or even
days apart.
Neonates
The young are altricial with sealed eyelids and ear canals
and weigh 4050 g (Harkness & Wagner 1995; Nowak
1999b). Like the guinea pig and humans, rabbits get their
passive immunity before birth (Brewer & Cruise 1994).
Neonates are very vulnerable to hypothermia as they are
hairless and the doe shows little maternal behavior. They
keep warm via brown fat, which is highest in the first
2 weeks and helps protect against low ambient tempera-
tures. Rabbit pups are normoglycemic, even without suck-
ling until 6 hours post partum when the glycogen reserves
become exhausted (Brewer & Cruise 1994; Harkness &
Wagner 1995).
Pseudopregnancy
Pseudopregnancy can be caused by infertile mating or
the presence of a male nearby. It can last for 16 or 17 days
during which the dam will be unable to conceive. After 18
to 22 days she may pluck hair from her belly to make
a nest. During pseudopregnancy the corpus luteum
secretes progesterone, which causes the uterus and
mammary glands to grow. This is most pronounced in the
first 10 days; by day 16 the organs will involute and at
day 18 the corpus luteum will be disintegrating (Lebas et
al. 1997b).
Lactation
The eight mammary glands develop in the last week of preg-
nancy. Milk let down will be delayed until after kindling.
There is a post partum estrus but receptivity declines once
lactation begins and continues until after weaning.
Rabbit milk is richer than cow milk, with an unusually
low lactose content and very high protein and fat content
(13% protein, 9% fat, 1% lactose, 2.3% minerals) (Cheeke
1987d, 1987h). Suckling is stimulated via a pheromone
produced by a gland near the nipple. Consumption of water
increases 10-fold during lactation, as does consumption of
cecotrophs.
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The uterus and ovarian pedicle are more friable than in the
cat or dog so early spaying (before 6 months) is advisable to
avoid excess fat.
CLINICAL NOTE
Reproductive physiology
Rabbits literally do breed like rabbits. In fact the cult of
the Easter Bunny arose from the old pagan spring festival
symbolizing new life and fertility. Smaller breeds reach
sexual maturity at 44.5 months while large breeds mature
at 4.55 months (Batchelor 1999). The reproductive capacity
of rabbits is potentially up to 60 young per year as the doe
has a post partum estrus within 24 hours of kindling (Lebas
et al. 1997b).
Ovulation
Rabbits, just like the cat and ferret, are induced ovulators
(Bell 1999) and ovulation occurs 10 to 13 hours after
coitus. There is no regular estrous cycle but a period of
receptivity every 5 to 6 days. Ovarian activity decreases
with shorter days in late summer to winter.
The vaginal smear technique is not useful in the rabbit
but the appearance of the vulva can give a guideline. Anestrus
shows a narrow, pale pink vulva, while during estrus the
vulva becomes swollen and reddish purple under the effect
of estrogen (Batchelor 1999; Lebas et al. 1997b).
Pregnancy
The gestation period is 3132 days. Larger litters have shorter
gestation periods than small litters. A fetus can be felt by
gentle palpation between 12 and 14 days gestation. If a
litter has not kindled by day 32 there is a higher risk of the
kits being stillborn.
Embryonic mortality is very high in rabbits with only
about 60 to 70% successful births (Lebas et al. 1997b).
Rabbits are particularly prone to fetal loss at day 13, when
placentation changes from yolk sacs to hemochorial, and at
23 days when the fetuses are susceptible to dislodgement
by rough handling (Harkness & Wagner 1995). External
factors like poor nutrition or body condition, age, and time
of year also play a role (Lebas et al. 1997b).
Many rabbit owners think the doe has abandoned her young.
However, the doe only nurses her young once a day,
spending about 35 minutes with them. Her milk is so rich
the kits can ingest 20% of body weight while suckling
(Cheeke 1987h; Lebas et al. 1997b).
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
ENDOCRINE SYSTEM ADRENALS
The adrenal glands are located craniomedial to the kidneys
and lie flattened against the dorsal body wall. The left lies
caudolateral to the cranial mesenteric artery and the right
lies in close proximity to the caudal vena cava (Cruise &
Nathan 1994). Cecotrophy is under the control of the
adrenals, which is why stress can lead to severe secondary
digestive problems.
SENSES
Being a prey species, the rabbit has acutely developed sense
organs. Like rodents, rabbits have acute hearing and are
very sensitive to high frequency sounds (Batchelor 1999).
The ears are long and funnel shaped to gather sound, and
the eyes are laterally located, offering binocular vision.
Eyes
The orbits are laterally situated with prominent globes and
the rabbit can obtain almost 360 degree vision by tilting the
head and moving the eyes. The upper lid is shorter and
thicker than the lower lid with more numerous cilia. Rabbits
blink only 10 to 12 times per hour, which makes them pre-
disposed to corneal ulceration and dry eye and they have
been used and abused as models for opthalmological
research (Andrew 2002; Peiffer et al. 1994). The third
eyelid does not visibly nictitate but can be retracted by
applying pressure to the globe. It does not move by more
than two-thirds across the globe (Peiffer et al. 1994).
The orbit is circular and made of bone, except at the
lower rim where it is walled by the muscles of mastication.
The rabbit has one more extraocular muscle than most
mammals, making a total of nine. This is because the globe
extends beyond the lower rim so the depressor palpebrae
muscle is necessary to depress the lower lid (Peiffer et al.
1994).
Blood supply
The internal maxillary artery enters the orbit where it gives
rise to the external ophthalmic artery. This anastomoses
with the internal to supply the extraocular muscles. An
extensive postorbital venous sinus provides venous drainage
and must be avoided if operating to enucleate the eye
(Peiffer et al. 1994).
Lacrimal system
The aqueous tear film is produced by three glands which
empty via the lacrimal puncta and canaliculi into the naso-
lacrimal duct. Normal Schirmer tear tests are 5 (2.96) mm/
minute (Peiffer et al. 1994).
The lacrimal gland
The lacrimal gland is large, bilobed, pale red in color and
lies beside the lower rim with a bulbous enlargement at the
medial canthus. It plays a lesser role in tear secretion so
portions can be removed without adverse long-term effects
to tear production (Peiffer et al. 1994).
Harderian gland
This is also called the deep gland of the third eyelid and
is attached to the rostromedial wall of the orbit. The gland
is large, encapsulated, and measures about 155 mm. It is
surrounded by the orbital venous sinus. It is kidney shaped
and has two distinct lobes. The excretory ducts from both
lobes converge into one duct which opens behind the third
eyelid. The gland is larger in males than females and is at
its largest during the breeding season (Peiffer et al. 1994).
Third eyelid gland
This is also called the superficial gland of the third eyelid.
This gland is similar to the Harderian gland and surrounds
the shaft of the third eyelid.
Nasolacrimal duct
The rabbit is unique in having only one lacrimal puncta
located on the lower eyelid 3 mm from the eyelid margins
and medial canthus. A short canaliculus (2 mm) leads into
the funnel shaped lacrimal sac. The duct then passes through
the lacrimal bone on the medial orbit and along the maxilla
where it is encased in bone. It can be divided roughly into
four portions (Burling et al. 1991; Peiffer et al. 1994):
1. Nasal puncta to proximal maxillary curve where it
narrows (1 mm)
2. Tubular portion along lacrimal canal to base of incisor
root (2 mm)
3. S-shaped bend around incisor root (1 mm)
4. Rostral duct running through nasal cartilage to exit at
tiny nasopunctum just caudal to the mucocutaneous
junction
Along its length the duct is lined by a highly folded
epithelium with a rich vascular and lymphatic supply. This
undulating epithelium, along with the narrow, sharp bends
and small nasal opening, means it can easily accumulate
inflammatory debris that cause obstruction of the tear duct
(Burling et al. 1991).
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The tortuous and narrow nasolacrimal duct with two sigmoid
curves means that pet rabbits are very vulnerable to duct
obstruction and dacryocystitis. Treatment can only be helped
by flushing the duct and treating any underlying dental disease
(Burling et al. 1991; Harcourt-Brown 1997).
CLINICAL NOTE
Globe
The cornea is large and occupies 30% of the globe (Andrew
2002; Donnelly 1997). The rabbit pupil is ovoid vertically
but becomes circular when widely dilated. The lens is large
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and has a poorly developed ciliary body, giving the rabbit
poor accommodation. The rabbit retinal vascular pattern is
merangiotic, which is characterized by a limited area of
blood vessels. Albino rabbits have a non-pigmented retina.
The optic nerve is located above the midline so retinal
examination involves looking up into the eye. There is no
tapetum lucidum and rabbits, like dogs, have a depression
in the optic disk (Andrew 2002; Peiffer et al. 1994).
INTEGUMENT
Rabbits have three types of hair long and short guard hairs
and the undercoat and it is these different lengths and
types that have produced the wide variety of rabbit breeds.
The primary hair follicles produce the longer guard hairs or
bristles and also have a sebaceous gland and erector pili
muscle attached. This enables the guard hairs to stand on
end when the animal is cold, trapping a layer of warm air
for insulation. The short guard hairs or awns are produced
by lateral primary follicles; secondary follicles produce the
down hairs or undercoat (Cheeke 1987h).
Rex breeds are derived from a mutation first observed in
France in 1919. They have short, inconspicuous guard hairs
that create fur of uniform length. The satin mutation
occurred in America in the mid-1930s. The coat length is
similar in this breed but the scales of the hair are smooth,
creating a sheen appearance. Angora breeds have both long
guard hairs and undercoat, with the females having longer
hair than the males (Cheeke 1987h).
Secondary follicles can vary with the season, thickening
the undercoat in rabbits from cold areas. In some wild
rabbits, under the action of melatonin, the pineal gland
produces a winter white coat for camouflage against the
snow. Photoperiod and prolactin are the triggers for this
coat change (Cheeke 1987h).
acid tyrosine under the influence of the enzyme tyrosinase,
which needs copper and iron as cofactors. White hair is
created by lack of pigment and reflection of light (Cheeke
1987h). The sheen will depend on sebaceous gland secre-
tions, which is influenced by the level of fat in the diet.
Himalayan rabbits grow coat color based on environ-
mental temperature. The Himalayan gene restricts coat
pigment to the extremities like the ears, nose, feet, and tail
where the temperature is lower (Cheeke 1987h). Similarly,
shaving hair drops the temperature and encourages the
growth of pigmented hair after surgery.
Molting
Rabbits molt when the new hair forces out the old hair
from the hair follicle, and this occurs twice a year in Spring
and Autumn. Molting starts at the head and proceeds
downward to the rear and belly, creating an unkempt moth-
eaten appearance over the rump.
Feet
Rabbits have no footpads but have coarse fur on the palmar
and plantar surfaces of the feet. As rabbit skin is thin, this
predisposes them to pressure sores if kept on hard flooring
or in unhygienic conditions. The metatarsus is particularly
vulnerable as rabbits sit plantigrade, so hard surfaces can
erode the fur and skin leading to ulcerative pododermatitis.
This is common in Rex breeds with less coarse hair to
protect the thin skin (Fig. 8.27).
Scent glands
Both sexes have three sets of scent glands, which are used
for territorial and sexual marking (Donnelly 1997). They
are used mostly by males and dominant females. The chin
(submental) gland is used for chin rubbing against objects.
There are also anal glands and inguinal glands located in the
hairless area on either side of the anogenital region. These
glands are influenced by androgen and produce a mixture
of hydrocarbons, proteins, fatty acids, and triglycerides.
Rabbits
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The superficial fascia has a high elastic and collagen content,
which means that subcutaneous injections in the scruff are
much easier than in rats and guinea pigs (Cruise & Nathan
1994).
CLINICAL NOTE
Coat color
The original pet rabbits had the natural camouflage agouti
coloration and the first color variants seem to have appeared
only about the middle of the 16th century. The Madonna
with the Rabbit was painted by Titian in 1550 and featured
a white rabbit; by 1700 seven mutant colors were known.
The hair pigments are melanin (brown/black) and pheome-
lanin (red/yellow). These pigments are made from the amino
KEY POI NTS
The uterus is duplex, meaning there are two cervices
leading into the vagina.
The rabbit has only one lacrimal puncta situated on each
lower lid.
The two kinks in the duct make it difficult to cannulate
and predispose it to infection.
Incisor and molar tooth root problems can precipitate
dacryocystitis.
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Figure 8.27 A rabbit with severe ulcerative pododermatitis on all four
feet secondary to severe urine scalding and neglect. This rabbit was found
dumped in a filthy hutch in the back of a skip.
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INTRODUCTION
The name guinea pig has become synonymous with the
term experimental subject in medical research. This is
because the guinea pig was the first animal to be used in
research: in an experiment on heat production in 1780
(Wagner 1976).
The wild ancestor of the guinea pig, Cavia porcellus, comes
from South America where they lived in small groups in
grassland areas (Harkness & Wagner 1995). Cavia porcellus
no longer exists in the wild and was domesticated for cen-
turies by the Incas for religious and food purposes (Nowak
1999). The early conquistadors invading Peru from 1532 called
them Indian pigs because, at the time, South America was
thought to be part of the West Indies and their squeals resem-
bled that of pigs. The origin of the word guinea is lost in
history. Theories range from claims that they cost one
guinea when first imported as pets to 16th-century England
or that they came via the Dutch colony of Guyana and the
name later became corrupted (Wagner 1976; Weir 1974).
The word cavy is the correct term as it derives from the
South American Quechuan (vernacular). Although that is
also the scientific name, the name guinea pig is still more
commonly used today.
Although the guinea pig has much in common with rats
and mice from a morphological perspective, recent genetic
research has indicated that the caviomorphs may have evolved
separately. Examination of mitochondrial DNA has shown
that they may be more closely related to man, rabbits, horses,
seals, and cows than to rats and mice (DErchia et al. 1996;
Harkness & Wagner 1995).
THERMOREGULATION
Due to its compact nature the guinea pig conserves heat
well but dissipates it poorly, so high temperatures lead to
heat prostration and death. This is especially a problem in
heavily pregnant sows. Ambient temperature ranges from
18 to 26 C are best.
GENERAL EXTERNAL ANATOMY
The guinea pig is short and squat, having a short neck merg-
ing with the main trunk (Fig. 9.1). The hind legs are longer
than the front legs and there is no tail. It reaches maximum
weight and length at about 15 months of age. The male is
larger than the female, being 9001200 g in comparison to
the females 700900 g.
The nostrils are longitudinal slits and are divided by the hair-
less philtrum. The mouth is triangular with the apex formed
by the split upper lip. Caudal to the upper and lower incisors
are skin folds that roll inwards to the midline to prevent food
passing into the pharynx while gnawing. The pinna is erect
in juveniles and folded forward in older adults. It is covered
by fine hairs on both the medial and lateral aspects.
Unlike rats and hamsters, the guinea pig has only four toes
on the front feet (digit 1 is absent) and no ability to grasp
food. The hind feet are plantigrade, with only three toes
(digits 1 and 5 absent), allowing less speed than the rabbit. The
soles are hairless with well-defined footpads. The forefoot
has a three lobed palmar pad with a caudal carpal pad; the
hind foot has a bilobed plantar pad with a large tarsal pad
(Cooper & Schiller 1975a)(Figs. 9.2 and 9.3).
External genitalia
Mammary glands are present in both male and female.
There is a single pair in the inguinal region with two teats
surrounded by a hairless area.
Male
The male has lateral scrotal swellings on each side of the anus.
The cranial orifice is the penile urethra, which is covered
by preputial folds. Caudally, is a longitudinal cleft covering
the opening of the large perineal sac and anus.
Female
Sows have a Y-shaped perineum. The urethral orifice lies
cranially in between the branches of the Y. The vulva lies at
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Guinea pigs
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
the intersection of the branches and has a U-shaped orifice.
It is covered by a vaginal membrane during anestrus and is
bordered laterally by labia. Behind this is the perineal sac,
which contains two perineal glands and which is often filled
with hair, debris, and oily secretions. The anus is located at
the base of the Y. Figure 9.4 shows the male and female
genitalia.
SKELETAL SYSTEM
Skull
Guinea pigs have large tympanic bullae and prominent
zygomatic arches (Fig. 9.7). The mandible, which is the largest
bone in the skull, is united rostrally at the mandibular
symphysis. It is roughened laterally for the insertion of the
masseter muscle.
Axial skeleton
There are 7 cervical, 1314 thoracic, 6 lumbar, 34 sacral and
47 caudal vertebrae. There are 1314 pairs of ribs, with
the last 2 being cartilaginous. The first six pairs articulate
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with the sternum, ribs 1013/14 being floating ribs (Breazile
& Brown 1976; Cooper & Schiller 1975b)(Figs. 9.5 and 9.6).
Appendicular skeleton
The guinea pig has two tiny clavicles at the base of the neck and
the acromion process of the scapula has an L-shaped hamate
process. The bones of the forelimb are the humerus, radius and
ulna, nine carpal bones, four metacarpal bones, and four digits.
The os coxa results from the fusion of four bones shortly
after birth: the ilium, ischium, pubis, and acetabular bone.
Each bone contributes to the formation of the acetabulum.
There are sexual variations in the pubic symphysis. Immature
males and females have a fibrocartilage articulation which
becomes ossified over 1 year of age. In primiparous female
guinea pigs the pubic symphysis remains cartilaginous so that
it can dilate to allow the relatively large fetus to pass through.
These pubic bones separate 2 weeks before parturition to
allow the passage of the large fetus. Palpation of this can be
a useful guideline for estimating time of parturition
(Breazile & Brown 1976; Cooper & Schiller 1975b).
The hindlimb is composed of femur, tibia, fibula, eight
tarsal bones, three metatarsals, and three digits that each have
three phalanges. The patella is large. The thin fibula articu-
lates proximally with the lateral condyle of the tibia and
distally with the calcaneus.
Os penis
This is a small, thin rodlike bone that lies within the glans
of the penis (Cooper & Schiller 1975b).
4th digit
3rd digit 2nd digit
1st digit
Carpal pad
Palmar pad
3rd digit
2nd digit
1st digit
Plantar pad
Tarsal pad
Figure 9.1 Guinea pig (Cavia porcellus).
Figure 9.2 Palmar surface of right forefoot of the guinea pig.
Figure 9.3 Plantar surface of right hind foot of guinea pig.
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larger blood samples. Compared to the rabbit, rat, and
hamster the guinea pig has a longer prothrombin time,
so blood clotting on sampling is less of a problem (Sisk
1976).
Unique blood cell features
Lymphocytes
The lymphocyte, which is the predominant peripheral blood
cell, is resistant to steroids, as it is in the ferret, man, and
monkey. This means that in contrast to the hamster, rabbit,
and rat, treatment with steroids does not cause marked
Guinea pigs
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CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
The heart occupies a relatively large space in the thoracic
cavity. It lies in the midline at the level of 2nd4th inter-
costal space. The pericardium has two layers: an outer fibrous
layer and a thinner serous layer.
Venepuncture
The blood volume of a guinea pig is 7075 ml/kg of blood.
The lateral saphenous and cephalic veins are most
accessible but are small. The jugular vein, which lies in
the superficial fascia of the ventral neck, can be used for
Anus
Urethra
(a) (b)
Vulva
Female Male
Urethra
Figure 9.4 External genitalia.
a) Female There is a Y-shape with the vulva at the intersection of the branches and the anus distal to this. The urethral orifice lies between the
branches of the Y.
b) Male The cranial orifice is the penile urethra, covered by preputial folds. Caudally is a longitudinal cleft covering the opening of the large perineal
sac and anus.
Figure 9.5 Skeleton of guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) with major bones labeled. From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas
of anatomy of small laboratory animals. Vol. 1. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
Calvarium
Mandible
Zygomatic
arch
Orbit
7th cervical
vertebra
Scapula
Hamate process
of acromion
Sternum
Humerus
Radius
Ulna
Carpus
Metacarpal
bones
Digital
bones
Caudal vertebrae
Femur
Patella
Tibia
Tarsus
Fibula
Metatarsal
bones
Digital bones
6th lumbar
vertebra
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
changes in thymic physiology or peripheral lymphocyte counts
(Sisk 1976).
Kurloff cell
This is a unique leukocyte of guinea pigs produced by the
thymus under estrogen stimulation. It resembles a lym-
phocyte but contains oval or round inclusions called Kurloff
bodies. These cells are rare in young animals, low in males and
related to the estrous cycle in females. They are highest in
the female during pregnancy and may play a role in the
maternalfetal barrier. They are also found in high number
in the trophoblast region of the placenta (Percy & Barthold
2001; Sisk 1976).
Kurloff cells also appear to have cytotoxic effect on
leukemic cells and may explain why spontaneous tumors
are not common in guinea pigs (Percy & Barthold 2001).
RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
The caudodorsal part of the nasal cavity is lined by sensitive
olfactory epithelium and this gives the guinea pig a keen
sense of smell. The larynx is typical of all mammals in that
it has five cartilages but there is no laryngeal ventricle. In
spite of their wide vocal variety, guinea pigs have small and
poorly developed vocal cords (Breazile & Brown 1976).
The caudal tongue is continuous with the soft palate,
except for the palatal ostium (previously called the inter-
pharyngeal ostium) in the middle (Fig. 9.8). This aperture
forms the only connection between the oropharynx and the
pharynx. The folds of soft palate around this hole are called
the velopharyngeal recess (Timm et al. 1987).
The heart occupies a disproportionately large part of the
thorax and leaves only a narrow space for the lungs on each
side. The right lung has four lobes (cranial, middle, accessory,
and caudal) that are separated by a deep fissure. The left
lung has three lobes: cranial, middle, and caudal (Breazile &
Brown 1976).
IMMUNE SYSTEM
Lymph nodes
The lymph nodes are oval (or bean shaped) red-brown
nodules located within the lymphatic vessels. They are
covered by a smooth transparent capsule, and blood vessels,
nerves and lymphatic vessels enter at a tiny depression
called the hilus.
The mandibular lymph nodes consist of 24 nodes lying
along the ventral border of the mandible. The cervical
lymph nodes are around 58 mm diameter and located
in adipose tissue cranial to the scapula. The deep nodes
lie adjacent to the trachea between the internal and
external jugular veins. In young animals it is covered by the
thymus.
Thymus
The cervical thymus is so readily accessible that the guinea
pig has been used extensively for immunology research. In
immature animals it is located in the cranial mediastinum
and subcutaneously in the neck where it surrounds the
trachea ventrally and laterally. It is composed of two yellow-
brown, oval lobes extending from the angle of the mandible
to approximately half way to the thoracic inlet. In the adult
it becomes mainly replaced by fat (Breazile & Brown 1976;
Harkness & Wagner 1995).
Spleen
The spleen is relatively large compared to that found in
most rodents and rabbits. It lies on the left side, lateral to
the greater curvature of the stomach and attached by the
gastrosplenic ligament (Breazile & Brown 1976).
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Figure 9.6 Skeleton of guinea pig (Cavia porcellus).
Although it is possible to perform endotracheal intubation in
the guinea pig, take care to access the palatal ostium lying
centrally; a lateral slip could cause damage to the vascular
velopharyngeal folds.
CLINICAL NOTE
Harsh abrasive foods can pierce the oral mucosa and enable
Streptococcus zooepidemicus, a normal oral pathogen, to
access the cervical lymph nodes and cause abscessation.
Guinea pigs present with pus-filled ventral cervical lymph
nodes which need lancing or, in severe cases, surgical
removal (Huerkamp et al. 1996).
CLINICAL NOTE
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DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Feeding behavior
Guinea pigs are crepuscular and thus feed at dawn and
dusk. They are strict herbivores with molar teeth suited for
grinding vegetative matter and, like rabbits, exhibit cecotrophy.
They are also fastidious eaters that learn early in life what
to eat.
Guinea pigs grab stalks by the base and tear them off by
a backward and upward thrust of the head. In the wild
much of the guinea pigs water requirements would come
through its greens, but in captivity water must be supplied.
Digestive physiology
The normal gastric emptying time is 2 hours and total gastroin-
testinal transit time averages 20 hours (range 830 hours).
If cecotrophy is accounted for then total transit time is
66 hours. Cecotrophy is performed 150200 times daily and
is essential for fiber and protein digestion (Ebino 1993).
Young guinea pigs initially populate their gut by eating the
sows droppings. The gut flora is mainly gram-positive bac-
teria and anaerobic lactobacillus, but coliforms, yeasts, and
clostridia are also present in small numbers (Cheeke 1987;
Harkness & Wagner 1995; Huerkamp et al. 1996).
Guinea pigs digest fiber more efficiently than rabbits
(Cheeke 1987). Unlike in rabbit and rats, satiety in guinea
pigs is governed by the distension of the gastrointestinal tract
as appetite does not increase with added cellulose to the diet
(Cheeke 1987; Harkness 1990; Harkness & Wagner 1995).
A crude protein level of 1820% is needed for growth and
lactation, and a minimal crude fiber level is 10% (Huerkamp
et al. 1996).
Vitamin C
Guinea pigs lack the enzyme L-gulonolactone oxidase, which
synthesizes ascorbic acid from glucose. Ascorbic acid is
necessary for the production of hydroxylysine and hydrox-
yproline, both essential for collagen synthesis in connective
tissues. Abnormal collagen results in leaking blood vessels and
hemorrhage in the joints, gums, and intestines. Collagen
also anchors the teeth in the sockets so hypovitaminosis C
can lead to dental problems (Cheeke 1987; Huerkamp et
al. 1996; Navia & Hunt 1976).
Adult non-breeding guinea pigs need 5 mg/kg of vitamin
C daily in their diet (Harkness & Wagner 1995). Young
growing animals have the highest demand for vitamin C;
scurvy can develop within 2 weeks on a deficient diet.
Metastatic mineralization
The guinea pig lays down soft tissue calcification with rela-
tive ease. Why this occurs is unclear but it may be related
to dehydration and mineral imbalances. Lesions can be seen
in animals over 1 year of age (Huerkamp et al. 1996).
Dentition
There are 20 teeth and the dental formula is 1/1, 0/0, 1/1,
3/3. All teeth are rootless (aradicular) and constantly growing
(Vaughan 1986). As a consequence of this malocclusion can
occur in both molars and incisor teeth. The chisel-shaped
incisors are white. The maxillary cheek teeth are angled
laterally, the lower teeth are arched medially toward the
tongue (Breazile & Brown 1976; Cooper & Schiller 1975b).
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When supplied with a water bottle guinea pigs do not lick the
drops but put their whole mouths around the nozzle, creating
a slurry which can easily block it. This can lead to rapid
dehydration in guinea pigs fed solely on dry food diets.
CLINICAL NOTE
When supplementing guinea pigs with vitamin C it is
important to avoid any human multivitamin products as these
can be too high in Vitamin D and lead to metastatic
calcification (Huerkamp et al. 1996).
CLINICAL NOTE
In guinea pigs with molar malocclusion the maxillary cheek
teeth overgrow laterally into the buccal mucosa while the
mandibular cheek teeth arch medially, causing tongue
entrapment and subsequent anorexia.
CLINICAL NOTE
Oral cavity
The oral cavity is small and there is a large elongated tongue.
The upper and lower cheek folds can fold inwards during
gnawing, dividing the mouth into two regions. Caudally the
mouth communicates with the pharynx and is lubricated
by salivary glands.
The tongue is large and elongated and covers most of the
floor of the mouth and oropharynx. It is bounded laterally
by the mandible. The rostral two thirds lie free and caudally
it is raised into a mound where there are extensive papillae
(Cooper & Schiller 1975c). The muscles of mastication are
well developed, reflecting the gnawing and grinding behavior
of this species (Breazile & Brown 1976).
Salivary glands
There are five pairs of salivary glands: parotid, mandibular,
zygomatic, major and minor sublingual. The ducts enter the
oral cavity near the molar teeth. The two mandibular glands
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come in contact with each other in the ventral midline
(Breazile & Brown 1976; Timm et al. 1987).
Pharynx
The nasopharynx and oropharynx are separated by the soft
palate, which communicates with the oral cavity via the
palatal ostium (see Respiratory system) (Timm et al. 1987).
Guinea pigs do not have tonsils but have lymphoid nodules
in folds in the wall of the pharynx.
Esophagus
This runs dorsal to the trachea in the midline and lies to the
left as it enters the thoracic inlet. It is lined by stratified
squamous epithelium, proximally by striated muscle, and
distally by smooth muscle. It enters the cardiac portion of
the stomach at an oblique angle near the lesser curvature.
Stomach
Guinea pigs are mongastric but, unlike the rat and hamster,
their stomach is completely glandular. The stomach lies in
the left cranial portion of the abdomen. The lesser curva-
ture of the stomach is very small and the angle formed by
it and the esophagus is called the angular notch. The greater
and lesser omentum extend from the stomach, as in other
species (Cooper & Schiller 1975c).
Intestines
The small intestine occupies the right side of the abdomen
and measures about 125 cm in length. There is little to
distinguish the different parts of the intestine. Lymphoid
nodules (Peyer patches) are found in the lamina propria.
The large intestine begins at the ileocecal valve and termi-
nates at the anus (Breazile & Brown 1976; Cooper & Schiller
1975c).
Cecum
The cecum is a large, thin-walled, green-brown sac filling
most of the left ventral abdominal cavity (Fig. 9.9). This is
the largest dilation of the alimentary canal, being 1520 cm
long and containing 65% of the gastrointestinal contents.
Externally, three white muscular longitudinal bands are
visible: the dorsal, ventral and medial teniae coli. These being
shorter than the cecum create saccular outpouchings called
haustra (Cooper & Schiller 1975c).
Colon
The colon is dark green and 70 cm long. Although it has an
ascending, transverse, and descending portion named accord-
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Body of
mandible
Condylar process
of mandible
Angular process
of mandible
Molars
Diastema
Upper and lower
incisor teeth
Incisive bone
Nasal bone
Maxillary bone
Frontal bone
Zygomatic arch
Orbit
Parietal bone
Occipital condyle
Tympanic bulla
Figure 9.7 Lateral view of guinea pig skull. From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small laboratory animals.
Vol. 1. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
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ing to location in the abdominal cavity, it is functionally
divided into the proximal (20 cm) and distal colon
(50 cm).
The proximal colon plays a role in separating digesta into
fecal pellets and cecotrophs. Although there are no haustra
outpouchings as in the rabbit, the mesenteric side of the
colonic mucosa folds to form a longitudinal furrow. This
furrow aids in separating the high protein digesta from the
poor quality protein destined to become fecal pellets. In
the proximal colon this furrow becomes very deep and is
lined by mucous cells which trap bacteria and high protein
particles. These are then transported by antiperistalsis back
to the cecum for further fermentation (Cheeke 1987;
Holtenius & Bjornhag 1985).
Liver
The liver is the largest gland, is red-brown in color, and
smooth. There are six lobes: right, medial, left lateral, left
medial, caudate, and quadrate. The gall bladder is well devel-
oped and lies medially in the quadrate lobe (Breazile & Brown
1976; Cooper & Schiller 1975c).
Pancreas
This is triangular, pink-red and has three lobes. It lies in
contact with the descending duodenum.
URINARY SYSTEM
The kidneys lie retroperitoneally on either side of the
midline and are often surrounded by dense adipose tissue
on the caudal and medial borders. In the female the broad
ligament, which also contains abundant fat, is attached to
the ventral aspect of the kidney. The left kidney is more
caudal than the right. The renal pelvis is large and there is
a single longitudinal papilla (Breazile & Brown 1976;
Cooper & Schiller 1975d).
The urinary bladder is large, saclike and triangular in
shape (Cooper & Schiller 1975d). The alkaline urine is thick
Guinea pigs
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Labionasal sulcus
Upper incisor
Hard palate
Cut wall of cheek
Masseter
muscle
Palatal ostium
Lower incisor
Upper lip
Cheek fold
Molar teeth
Torus
(root of tongue)
Apex of tongue
Lower lip
Soft palate
Figure 9.8 Open mouthed view of guinea
pig showing molar teeth and palatal ostium.
From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J.
(1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small
laboratory animals. Vol. 1. Aylesbury, UK:
Wolfe with permission.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
and cloudy white, containing calcium carbonate and ammo-
nium phosphate crystals. In the female the external urethra
is separate from the vagina.
REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
Male
The male genital organs consist of the testes, accessory
sexual glands, and the perineal and caudal glands. The per-
ineal sac glands are present in both sexes but are more exten-
sive in the male. They lie on either side of the anus and
contain extensive caseous secretions, hair and skin debris
(Cooper & Schiller 1975a).
The inguinal ring is permanently open. The scrotum con-
tains the testes, epididymis, and caudal spermatic cord. The
epididymis lies along the dorsolateral margin and has large fat
bodies associated with its head and tail. The distal extremity
of the penis contains an os penis that has two horny prongs
of equal length lying in a pouch just caudoventral to the
urethral opening. During erection this pouch is everted to
project the two prongs. Androgen levels decrease rapidly
following castration although sexual mounting behavior can
last some weeks (Breazile & Brown 1976; Cooper & Schiller
1975d).
Accessory glands
These consist of the prostate gland, coagulating gland, seminal
vesicles, and bulbourethral glands (Fig. 9.10). The paired
seminal vesicles are large, yellow-white vermiform sacs
lying in the caudal peritoneal cavity, dorsal to the bladder,
and extending 10 cm cranially into the abdomen. As they
are large and filled with semi-solid seminal secretions they
could be confused with the female uterus. The coagulating
and prostate glands lie close to the base of the vesicles. The
bulbourethral glands are oval, paired glands which lie close
to the urethra at the ischial arch (Cooper & Schiller
1975d).
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Right liver lobe
Jejunum
Duodenum
Gall bladder
Ileum
Bladder
Opening of
perineal sac
Anus
Urethra
Rectum
Cecum
Fat and mesentary
Ascending colon
Stomach
Spleen
Transverse colon
Greater omentum
Left liver lobe
Diaphragm
Figure 9.9 Ventral view of abdominal viscera of guinea pig.
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Female
The ovaries are located caudolateral to the kidneys and are
supported by a short mesovarium. The oviduct lies in close
contact within the ovarian bursa. There is a pink bicornate
uterus, a short uterine body, and a single cervix opening into
the vagina (Cooper & Schiller 1975d) (Fig. 9.11). The broad
ligament (mesovarium, mesosalpinx, and mesometrium) con-
tains a lot of fat, which makes identification of the ovarian
pedicle difficult during ovariohysterectomy.
Like in most mammals, an anastomosis between the ovarian
artery (a branch of the aorta) and the uterine artery (a branch
of the internal iliac) occurs in the uterine mesentery. The
uterine artery provides the main blood supply to the ovary
(Del Campo & Ginther 1972; Harkness & Wagner 1995).
A unique feature of caviomorphs is the presence of a
vaginal membrane. This is a thin, translucent epithelial mem-
brane that seals the vaginal orifice except during copulation
and parturition. It closes shortly after estrus or, if copulation
has taken place, after expulsion of the vaginal plug (Breazile
& Brown 1976; Cooper & Schiller 1975d).
Estrus
Guinea pigs are polyestrous, with an estrous cycle of
1517 days (Harkness & Wagner 1995; Nowak 1999). Estrus
Guinea pigs
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Cut ureter
Seminal
vesicle
Cut ureter
Urinary bladder
(tipped laterally)
Ventral lobe
of prostate
Urethral sphincter
muscle surrounding
pelvic urethra
Urethra
Bulbospongiosus
muscle
Crus penis
(region of attachment
of tunica albuginea to pubis)
Shaft of penis
Coagulating
gland
Dorsal lobe
of prostate
Ductus
deferens
Bulbourethral
gland
Corpus
cavernosus
Head of
epididymis
Testis
Body of
epididymis
Tail of
epididymis
Glans covered by prepuce
Figure 9.10 Ventral view of the male
genital tract showing large seminal vesicles.
Because the male urethra transports copious seminal fluid as
well as urine, aged male guinea pigs can develop cystitis and
even obstructions due to occlusion of the penile urethra with
coagulated seminal secretions or calculi.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
lasts from 611 hours during which time the female shows
lordosis, elevation of the rump, and dilation of the vulva.
The vaginal membrane opens for about 2 days during this time
and closes after ovulation. A thick mucus discharge can be
seen. Ovulation is spontaneous and usually occurs about
10 hours into the cycle. A fertile post partum estrus lasts
from 210 hours after parturition.
Mammary glands
There is a single pair of inguinal mammary glands. These are
divided into fine lobules, which open via a number of small
ducts into one large duct to the exterior. There are two teats.
In pigmented animals these glands are usually dark and
hairless. The left and right mammary glands do not have a
common blood supply, making mammectomy easier. Although
the male has two teats the mammary glands are rudimentary
(Breazile & Brown 1976; Cooper & Schiller 1975d).
Sexual maturity
Puberty occurs at 2 months in the female and 3 months in
the male, although males will show mounting behavior from
the age of only 1 month. Females have, however, become
pregnant at as early as 45 weeks (Nowak 1999).
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Figure 9.11 Bicornate uterus of 2-year-old guinea pig sow.
Cystic ovaries are common and have been identified on
post mortem in 76% of female guinea pigs from 25 years
of age (Figs. 9.12 and 9.13). They develop spontaneously
and can range in size from 0.57.0 cm. Both ovaries are
usually affected and may be single or multiloculate, and
filled with clear fluid. The most effective treatment is
ovariohysterectomy, preceded if necessary by percutaneous
ovarian drainage.
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 9.12 Ventrodorsal radiograph of guinea pig with abdominal
distension. Cystic ovaries were diagnosed on ultrasound. Note non-
fusion of pubic symphysis.
Figure 9.13 Lateral radiograph of the guinea pig in Fig. 9.12.
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Copulatory plugs
These are formed from secretions of the male seminal vesicles
and sloughed vaginal epithelium. They help to prevent
sperm leakage after copulation and prevent fertilization of
the female by subsequent males. This plug will usually fall
out of the vagina and can be found as a waxy mass on the
floor a few hours post mating.
Gestation
Gestation is 5972 days and is shorter in primiparous sows and
small litters. Implantation occurs on day 67. The placenta
is hemochorial, meaning that, as in humans, rabbits, and ham-
sters, the trophoblast is in contact with maternal blood supply.
It is also thought that Kurloff cells may play a role in pro-
tection of fetal cells (see Cardiovascular system). The placenta
secretes progesterone on day 15 and fetuses can be palpated
as early as this. Guinea pigs receive all maternal antibodies
from the placenta and not from colostrum (Sisk 1976).
In the latter half of the pregnancy the cartilage joining the
pubic symphysis begins to dilate under the effects of the
hormone relaxin. Two days before parturition the gap widens
to 15 mm. By the time of parturition, the cartilage is gone
and the pubis widens to about 25 mm (over 50 times its
normal width) (Harkness & Wagner 1995; Sisk 1976).
Parturition and lactation
Birth weights vary from 45115 g and are inversely related
to litter size. The placenta is eaten by the dam and other
guinea pigs. The young are weaned at a body weight of 180 g,
or at 21 days of age. Milk production peaks 58 days post
partum and ceases between days 18 and 23. Guinea pig milk
consists of 4% fat, 8% protein, and 3% lactose (Harkness &
Wagner 1995; Sisk 1976).
bulla which contains the middle and inner ear gives the guinea
pig excellent hearing (Harkness & Wagner 1995).
Sight
The eyes are located in the shallow, bony orbits and lie later-
ally in the mid portion of the skull. They have a combined
visual field of 340 degrees. The eye is embedded in fat and
glandular tissue. The upper and lower eyelids protect the
eye and blinking is only occasional. Unlike the rabbit, there
are lacrimal puncta at both the upper and lower eyelids.
The nictitating membrane is rudimentary and is just a small
pigmented fold.
Orbital contents
The globe is embedded in fat and actually makes up less
than half the orbit; the rest is occupied by the extraocular
muscles, the lacrimal glands, zygomatic salivary gland, blood
vessels, and nerves (Cooper & Schiller 1975e).
The lacrimal gland lies at the caudoventral aspect of the
orbit. It drains via two canaliculi into the lacrimal sac at the
rostral orbit margin. The nasolacrimal duct is quite wide
but narrows near the nasal vestibule where it terminates. A
richly venous ophthalmic plexus, made up of branches of
the maxillary and ophthalmic veins, surrounds the eyeball
(Cooper & Schiller 1975e).
Olfaction
Olfactory cells in the nose connect with the olfactory nerve
and penetrate the cribriform plate of the ethmoid bone to
pass dorsally into the olfactory bulbs of the brain.
INTEGUMENT
Guinea pigs are born fully haired. The hair consists of large,
coarse guard hairs with a fine undercoat. A prominent hair-
less area, measuring about 2.5 to 4 cm in diameter lies just
caudal to the pinna on both sides. This area lacks sebaceous
and sweat glands and is more darkly pigmented than the
remaining skin. It is larger in albino guinea pigs.
Coat color
Guinea pigs can be one uniform color or mixed. The original
natural color, agouti, is a combination of black and brown
on each hair, but many colors are now possible. Albinos have
red eyes with pink ears and feet. Himalayans have albino
features at birth but develop dark points at the nose, ears,
and feet. Brindle guinea pigs have a mixture of brown and
black hairs.
Coat variety
The Self variety has smooth, short hairs lying in parallel
segments. The Abyssinian has short hairs arranged in whorls
Guinea pigs
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Sows which are bred after 710 months of age do not get the
same widening of the pubic bones so dystocia commonly
results (Huerkamp et al. 1996).
CLINICAL NOTE
ENDOCRINE SYSTEM
The adrenal glands are associated with the craniomedial
surface of each kidney and are particularly large. Each gland
is roughly triangular, bilobed, and yellow-brown in color.
SENSES
Hearing
The cartilage ear canal is long and tortuous, making it difficult
to visualize the tympanic membrane. The large tympanic
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
that make its coat look uneven. When the periphery of these
whorls meet in the midline it gives a crested or mohican
appearance. Hair length for the Self and Abyssinian is around
35 mm but the Peruvian can grow hair as long as 200 mm,
and the latter are mainly used as show animals (Cooper &
Schiller 1975a).
Vibrissae
These are long hairs used as tactile organs and there are seven
groups divided according to their location. The buccal vibrissae
lie in six parallel rows above the upper lip and are directed
backwards from the muzzle. Two mental vibrissae lie on the
chin while two nasal ones are located dorsolaterally on each
side of the nose. Four supraorbital ones lie just rostral and dorsal
to each upper eyelid and three infraorbital ones lie inferior
and rostral to each lower eyelid (Cooper & Schiller 1975a).
Sebaceous glands
These are numerous along the dorsum and around the anus.
The perineal glands are used for scent marking and contain
a lot of sebaceous material. There are no anal glands. The
caudal sebaceous gland sited at the coccyx lies 1 cm dorsal to
the anus and is seen as an oval region that secretes pheromones
and which becomes matted with sticky hair in adult males
(Breazile & Brown 1976).
REFERENCES
Breazile, J. E., & Brown, E. M. (1976) Anatomy. In J. E. Wagner & P.
J. Manning (eds.), The biology of the guinea pig. New York:
Academic Press. pp. 5362.
Cheeke, P. R. (1987) Nutrition of guinea pigs. In T. J. Cunha (ed.),
Rabbit feeding and nutrition. Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press.
pp. 344353.
Cooper, G., & Schiller, A. L. (1975a) Anatomy of the guinea pig.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. External Anatomy;
pp. 317.
Cooper, G., & Schiller, A. L. (1975b) Anatomy of the guinea pig.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. The skeletal system;
pp. 1771.
Cooper, G., & Schiller, A. L. (1975c) Anatomy of the guinea pig.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. The digestive
system; pp. 303324.
Cooper, G., & Schiller, A. L. (1975d) Anatomy of the guinea pig.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. The urogenital
system; pp. 325357.
Cooper, G., & Schiller, A. L. (1975e) Anatomy of the guinea pig.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. The eye and orbital
contents; pp. 369389.
Del Campo, C. H., & Ginther, O. J. (1972) Vascular anatomy of the
uterus and ovaries and the unilateral luteolytic effect of the
uterus: Guinea pigs, rats, hamsters and rabbits. American Journal
of Veterinary Research 33, 25612578.
DErchia, A. M., Gissi, C., Pesole, G., et al (1996) The guinea pig is
not a rodent. Nature 381, 597599.
Ebino, K. Y. (1993) Studies on coprophagy in experimental animals.
Experimental Animals 42, 19.
Harkness, J. E. (1990) Rabbits and rodents laboratory animal
science. University of Sydney Proceedings 142. Nutrition of rabbits
and rodents; pp. 99111.
Harkness, J. E., & Wagner, J. E. (1995) The biology and medicine
of rabbits and rodents, 4th edn. Baltimore: William & Wilkins.
Biology and husbandry the guinea pig; pp. 3040.
Holtenius, K., & Bjornhag, G. (1985) The colonic separation
mechanism in the guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) and the chinchilla
(Chinchilla laniger). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology
82A(3), 537542.
Huerkamp, M. J., Murray, K. A., & Orosz, S. E. (1996) Guinea pigs.
In K. Laber-Laird, M. M. Swindle & P. Flecknell (eds.), Handbook
of rodent and rabbit medicine. Oxford: Pergamon. pp. 91149.
Navia, J. N., & Hunt, C. E. (1976) Nutrition, nutritional diseases
and nutrition research applications. In J. E. Wagner & P. J.
Manning (eds.), The biology of the guinea pig. New York:
Academic Press. pp. 235267.
Nowak, R. M. (ed.) (1999) Cavies or guinea pigs. Walkers Mammals
of the World , 6th edn. Vol. 11. Baltimore: John Hopkins
University Press. pp. 16671669.
Percy, D. H., & Barthold, S. W. (2001) Pathology of laboratory
rodents and rabbits, 2nd edn. Guinea pig; pp. 209244.
Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas
of anatomy of small laboratory animals. Vol. 1. Aylesbury, UK:
Wolfe. pp. 147240.
Sisk, D. B. (1976) Physiology. In J. E .Wagner & P. J. Manning (eds.),
The biology of the guinea pig. New York: Academic Press. pp. 6392.
Timm, K. I., Jahn, S. E., & Sedgwick, C. J. (1987) The palatal
ostium of the guinea pig. Laboratory Animal Science 37, 801802.
Vaughan, T. A. (ed.) (1986) Mammology, 3rd edn. Philadelphia:
Saunders College. Order Rodentia; pp. 244277.
Wagner, J. E. (1976) Introduction and taxonomy. In J. E. Wagner &
P. J. Manning (eds.), The biology of the guinea pig. New York:
Academic Press. pp. 120.
Weir, B. J. (1974) Notes on the origin of the domestic guinea pig.
Symposia of the Zoological Society of London 34, 437446.
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KEY POI NTS
Incisors and molars are open rooted, hence dental
disease is common.
Vitamin C is essential and scurvy can develop within
4 days of decreased intake.
Males have a prominent caudal sebaceous gland and very
large seminal vesicles.
Females have a bicornate uterus, vaginal membrane, and
separate urethral and vaginal orifices.
The left and right mammary glands have separate blood
supplies.
The pubic symphysis dilates for parturition. Females
should be bred before 710 months to prevent fusion
and subsequent dystocia.
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INTRODUCTION
The original habitat of the Norwegian or brown rat (Rattus
Norvegicus) is Asia where they lived in burrows on the
plains of north China and Mongolia. The black rat (Rattus
rattus) comes from India and the Malaysian peninsula. In
the Middle Ages the black rat spread to the rest of the
world when trade routes opened from the East. The brown
rat followed later, arriving in Europe in the early 18th
century, and rat baiting became a popular sport. Following
the routes of human migration it reached America by the
end of the century (Harkness & Wagner 1995).
The brown rat became more successful due to its greater
ability to withstand cold and live in close proximity to humans.
Its omnivorous diet meant it could adapt to every environ-
ment from sewers to drains and buildings (Koolhaas 1999;
Sharp & LaRegina 1998).
Rattus norvegicus was the first species to be domesticated
purely for scientific purposes and is now the most widely
studied experimental animal in biomedical research.
Longevity
The average life span of a rat is 2.53.5 years, with the females
living longer, on average (Fallon 1996). Longevity can be increased
by feeding a low fat and vegetable protein diet (Yu 1994).
THERMOREGULATION
Rats have few sweat glands and, being unable to pant, have
poor heat tolerance. They do not increase their water intake
at high ambient temperatures but instead try to cool down
by increasing salivation and seeking shade (Bivin et al. 1979).
Death occurs at temperatures over 37 C. The tail and ear
are very important for heat dispersion, with blood vessels
vasoconstricting and dilating according to ambient tem-
peratures (Fallon 1996; Sharp & LaRegina 1998).
Adult brown rats have good tolerance to cold and can adapt
extremely well to cold climates by laying down brown fat
within 3 or 4 weeks. This can form extensive sheets of pink
fatty tissue along the ventrolateral and dorsal aspects of the
neck (Bivin et al. 1979; Greene 1962). Pups, however, have
no intrinsic thermoregulatory mechanisms until the end of
the first week of life and are kept warm by siblings and the
mother (Fallon 1996; Koolhaas 1999).
The preferred ambient temperature range for captive
rats is 1826 C and with a relative humidity of 4070%.
Unweaned rats that are less than 17 days old and kept at
low humidity develop a condition called ringtail. This is
where annular lesions on their tail causes the distal end to
become necrotic and slough off.
Photoperiod
The rat is mainly nocturnal but will have cycles of activity by
day as well as night. A photoperiod of 12 hours day, 12 hours
night is recommended for captive rats (Baker 1979; Koolhaas
1999). Albino rats are light sensitive so bright lights should
be avoided (Koolhaas 1999).
GENERAL EXTERNAL ANATOMY
The rat has a stocky body and a scaly tail that is about 85%
of the body length (Fig. 10.1) (Bivin et al. 1979). The ears
are small and covered with fine hairs. The male is larger
than the female. The body weight of the male is 450 to
520 g and that of the female is 250 to 300 g.
Head
The upper lips are hairy and cover the incisors so that only
the tips are visible. They are cleaved midline by a deep,
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Rats
The vasodilation of the tail vessels can be used to advantage
for venepuncture from the lateral tail vein. The rat should be
kept at a warm ambient temperature and the tail immersed in
warm water to dilate the blood vessels prior to sampling.
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
hairless philtrum. The nasal skin is also hairless and con-
tains the slitlike nostrils, which can be closed under water.
The space between the lips, cheeks, and teeth is called the
vestibule.
Teeth
The incisors are used for fighting, holding food, excavating
while burrowing, and gnawing. Iron pigments are responsible
for the yellow-orange color of the incisors (Fallon 1996)
(Fig. 10.2).
Eyes
The eyes are black, except in albinos. They are spherical in
shape and there is frequent blinking. The third eyelid is
poorly formed, giving the eyes a bulging appearance (Bivin
et al. 1979). Albino rats have poor vision but use sensitive
vibrissae and olfaction instead (Harkness & Wagner 1995).
Tail
The tail is long in relation to body size and very sensitive to
pain. It plays a large role in thermoregulation and balancing.
The cutis of the tail forms over 210 caudally directed over-
lapping scales, which are heavily keratinized on the upper
epidermis (Hebel & Stromberg 1986f). Three short bristles
project from each scale. The tail is covered by a layer of
orange-yellow sebum.
Feet
There is considerable difference between the length of the
front and hindlimbs, enabling the rat to run fast with hop-
ping movements. The rat stands plantigrade so the palmar
and plantar skin areas are hairless (they are also devoid of
sebaceous glands), with heavily keratinized pads (Hebel &
Stromberg 1986e). Sweat glands lie embedded in the fat
deposits of the subcutis. These function not for evaporative
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cooling but for maintaining adhesive friction between the
foot and surfaces.
Both fore and hindlimb have five digits, although the first
digit of the forefoot is markedly reduced and has a flattened
nail (Bivin et al. 1979) (Fig. 10.3). The front paw has five
digital pads, three metacarpal and two carpal pads, while
the hind leg has five digital, four metatarsal and two tarsal
pads (Figs. 10.4 and 10.5). The rest of all the phalanges are
covered by a curved claw.
External genitalia
Male
There is a common urogenital aperture (Fig. 10.6). The
testicles are evident from 34 weeks in the male but the rat
may need to be held vertically to let the testes drop into
the scrotum. In adult males the large oblong scrotum on
either side gives the male rat a rounded distal silhouette.
The anus is obscured by the hair but the anogenital distance
is twice that of the female. Newborn male rats have a more
prominent genital papilla and a greater anogenital distance.
There are no nipples in the male.
Female
The female has a shorter anogenital distance than the male.
The urethra opens at the base of the clitoris, which is
enclosed in a little prepuce. The vulva lies just caudal to this.
The female appears to taper towards the tail in a triangular
shape (Fig. 10.7).
Figure 10.1 The brown rat (Rattus norvegicus).
Figure 10.2 The yellowish color of rat incisors is due to iron pigments.
At rest, the lower incisors lie behind the upper incisors and the length
of the lower crown is two to three times longer than the upper crown.
This is normal and should not be mistaken for malocclusion.
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rat they appear to merge as one continuous sheet. Nipples
are visible from 815 days of age (Fig. 10.22).
SKELETAL SYSTEM
The skeleton of the rat (Fig. 10.8) lacks any unique adapta-
tions to digging, swimming, or running (King & Constance
1982). Along with hamsters and other small rodents, rats
lack Haversian systems so ossification is not completed
until 1 year of age (much later in relation to puberty than
most mammalian species) (Fallon 1996; Percy & Barthold
2001). The proximal humeral epiphysis and distal radius
and ulna do not fuse until the end of the 2nd year (Hebel
& Stromberg 1986a).
Skull
The skull has a cartilaginous mandibular symphysis and an
extremely mobile temperomandibular joint (Hebel &
Stromberg 1986a). This, combined with the chisel-like incisors
and powerful jaw muscles, makes the rat ideally adapted to
the omnivorous state (Figs. 10.910.12).
Axial skeleton
There are 7 cervical, 13 thoracic, 6 lumbar, 4 sacral, and 27
to 31 coccygeal vertebrae (Bivin et al. 1979; Hebel &
Stromberg 1986a). The sixth cervical vertebrae has a
modified rib fused to its transverse processes. Ribs 17
articulate with the sternum and the last three are floating
ribs. The rat does not have true costal cartilages. The dorsal
ribs become ossified first, with the ventral part following
later.
Rats
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Mammary glands
There are six mammary glands on each side in the rat: three
in the thorax, one in the abdomen and two in the inguinal
region. Mammary tissue is extensive, reaching from the neck
to the elbow and to the inguinal region. At the axilla a por-
tion even extends dorsally to the shoulder. In the lactating
Figure 10.5 Detail of left hind foot.
Digital pads
Metacarpal region
Metacarpophalangeal
region
Phalangeal region
Carpal pad
Metacarpal pads
Palmar surface of right forefoot.
Palmar surface of right hind foot.
Metatarsal region
Metatarsophalangeal
region
Phalangeal region
Tarsal pads
Digital pads
Metatarsal pads
Figure 10.3 Palmar surface of right forefoot showing the short
first digit.
Figure 10.4 Plantar surface of right hind foot.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Appendicular skeleton
The rat has a well-developed clavicular brace with ligaments
similar to the human shoulder joint (Fig. 10.15). A spoon-
shaped clavicle articulates with the sternum proximally, and
distally with the scapula. The scapula is usually positioned
horizontally and has a club-shaped hamate process extending
laterally from the scapular spine (Bivin et al. 1979; Hebel
& Stromberg 1986a).
The forefeet are well developed and, unlike in the rabbit and
guinea pig, have the ability to flex and grasp food in their
palms. There are five metacarpal bones: the first digit has two
phalanges while the other four all have three phalanges.
In the young rat the os acetabulum fuses with the ischium
and ilium to form the acetabulum. The tibia and fibula are
fused distally and the tarsus has three rows of bones. The hind
feet follow the same pattern as the forefeet but are much
better developed (Hebel & Stromberg 1986a).
CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
The pericardium is thin and transparent, with fat deposits
at the apex and insertion. It is firmly attached to the thymus
cranioventrally. Due to the small size of the left lung the
heart is exposed to the thoracic wall on this side (Bivin et al.
1979). There are two cranial vena cavae. The right vena cava
empties directly into the right atrium while the left is joined
by the azygos vein before joining the caudal vena cava to enter
the right atrium (Bivin et al. 1979; Sharp & LaRegina 1998).
The rat has the thinnest pulmonary artery and the thickest
pulmonary vein of all rodent species examined. The vein is
thicker due to cardiac striated muscle fibers that are con-
tinuous with those of the heart and which then extend into the
lung tissue. This unfortunately could allow infectious agents
to spread from the heart, through the pulmonary veins, and
into the lungs (Bivin et al. 1979; Sharp & LaRegina 1998).
Venepuncture sites
The blood volume of the rat is 60 ml/kg and routine blood
collection should be limited to 1% of body weight. Blood
can be taken from the lateral tail vein, lateral saphenous or
ventral tail artery. When intending to sample from the tail
it should be warmed well first to cause vasodilation. As the
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Figure 10.7 Rats perched on branch showing rounded distal
appearance of entire males and triangular appearance of female (right of
picture). (Photo by Claire Nuttall)
Male
Urogenital orifice
Vagina
Anus
Female
Urethra
Testes
Figure 10.6 External genitalia.
(a) Male there is a common urogenital aperture and the anogenital distance is twice that of the female
(b) Female the urethra and vulva have separate openings and there is a shorter anogenital distance than in the male
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ventral tail artery has high blood pressure no syringe plunger
is necessary, although good hemostasis is required after removal
of the needle to avoid excessive blood loss (Fallon 1996).
IMMUNE SYSTEM
The lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes are similar to those
in most mammals. The mesenteric lymph node is the largest
lymph node and is often embedded in fat in obese rats.
Thymus
Most of the thymus lies in the cranial mediastinum, with a
small cervical part lying ventral to the trachea. Like all
rodents it persists into adult life (Bivin et al. 1979; Percy &
Barthold 2001).
Rats
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Spleen
The spleen lies in the left dorsal cavity between two layers
of omentum. It is oblong in shape and larger in males than
in females. It is a major site of red cell breakdown (Bivin et
al. 1979).
RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
The nasal cavity is involved not only with respiration but
with humidifying and filtering incoming air. As in all rodents,
it also plays a major role in olfaction. Over 50% of the nasal
cavity is lined by olfactory epithelium, giving rats their acute
sense of smell. In contrast, man has only 3% of the nasal
cavity lined by olfactory epithelium (Harkema & Morgan 1996).
The vomeronasal organ, which lies about 10 mm from the
vestibule in the ventral vomer bone, also plays a role in olfaction
(Harkema & Morgan 1996; Hebel & Stromberg 1986d).
The length of the trachea from first cartilage to bifurca-
tion is 33 mm. It is a flattened oval in cross-section and is
32 mm wide (Hebel & Stromberg 1986d). The right lung
has a cranial, middle, caudal, and accessory lobe. The left
lung is smaller and not divided into lobes. Due to its small
size the heart is quite accessible on the left side, so cardiac
puncture could be achieved between ribs 3 and 5 (Figs. 10.14
and 10.15).
Stenos gland
The rat has several well-developed nasal glands but the largest
is Stenos gland. This lies in the rostral maxillary sinus and
its duct empties at the vestibule. This gland is homologous
with the salt gland of marine birds. It produces a watery
secretion at the nose where it may help to humidify inspired
air and regulate mucus viscosity (Bivin et al. 1979; Sharp &
LaRegina 1998).
Atlas
Scapula
Humerus
Sacrum
Ilium
Coccygeal vertebrae
Ischium
Fibula
Tibia
Femur
Patella
Tarsus
Metatarsals
Ulna
Radius
Carpus
Metacarpals
Figure 10.8 Skeleton of Brown rat (Rattus norvegicus). From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small laboratory
animals. Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
Figure 10.9 Lateral radiograph of rat skull.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Rats are omnivores and feed frequently. Food is grasped in
the forepaws, chipped by the incisors, and ground down by
the molars. Gastrointestinal transit time varies from 12 to
24 hours. Food restriction, as opposed to ad lib feeding, has
been found to increase longevity and decrease incidence of
tumors in ageing rats (Koolhaas 1999; Yu 1994).
Oral cavity
The tongue is about 30 mm long and 8 mm wide from rostral
tip to epiglottis (Fig. 10.13). It is compressed in the middle
to allow space for the molar teeth. The dorsal surface has a
caudal prominence called the lingual torus, which has
abundant gustatory and mechanical papillae (Bivin et al.
1979; Hebel & Stromberg 1986c).
There are no tonsils. The hard palate has prominent ridges
and is distinguished from the soft palate by a pale line in
the mucous membrane (Bivin et al. 1979). Taste buds are
found throughout the oral cavity from the dorsal tongue, along
the rostral edge of the soft palate, and on the hard palate.
Dentition
There are 16 teeth and the dental formula is 1/1,0/0,0/0,3/3.
The cheek tissue can be drawn into the diastema, closing
off the back of the mouth to allow the rat to gnaw on hard
substances without having debris pass into the pharynx
(Bivin et al. 1979).
Incisors
As is the case with all rodents, the incisive bone is well
developed. The incisors erupt about 10 days after birth, the
molars on day 19 and all teeth are in wear by 6 weeks. Rats
are monophyodont, meaning they only produce one set of
teeth (Hebel & Stromberg 1986a; Schour & Massler).
The incisors are open rooted (aradicular) and constantly
growing so need to be worn down by gnawing. The incisors
grow in the shape of a spiral, the upper incisors being more
tightly curved than the lower (Fig. 10.16). The ability of the
temperomandibular joint to allow cranial and caudal jaw
movement keeps the tips sharp by gnawing. The lingual side
has softer dentine so wears down faster, creating the
appearance of the bevel of a hypodermic needle. The incisors
have a yellow-orange color due to the presence of iron
pigments and this deepens with age (Schour & Massler).
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Nasal bone
Incisive bone
Frontal bone Parietal bone
Coronoid process
Occipital condyle
Tympanic bulla
Angular process
Condylar process
Zygomatic arch
Upper and lower molars
Lower incisor
Diastema
Upper incisor
Maxillary bone
Orbit
Figure 10.10 Lateral view of rat skull. From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small laboratory animals.
Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
At rest, the lower incisors lie behind the upper incisors and
the length of the lower crown is three times as long as the
upper crown. This is normal and should not be mistaken for
malocclusion (Fig. 10.2).
CLINICAL NOTE
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The rate of eruption is balanced by the rate of attrition
so the length of the teeth remains constant. When a tooth
is fractured or maloccluded the eruptive forces increase
23 times, causing rapid elongation of the tooth. The teeth
usually grow in a spiral fashion, often perforating the lips
(Schour & Massler).
Molars
These provide the grinding action on the food. They are
closed rooted (brachiodontic) and stop growing at
about 125 days after birth. The size of the molars decreases
from M1 to M3 (Hebel & Stromberg 1986a). The
masticatory surface has transversely orientated enamel
folds with nine enamel-free cusps arranged in three rows
of three. The upper and lower jaws are of equal width
but only one side will be in apposition at a time during
chewing.
Muscles of mastication
Rats, like all myomorphs, have a well-developed zygomatic
arch and strong jaw muscles (Fig. 10.17). The masseter,
temporalis, and pterygoideus close the jaw; the digastricus
opens the mouth and draws the mandible backward (Hebel
& Stromberg 1986b).
The masseter muscle (medial and lateral) is the most
powerful and extends from the lateral zygomatic arch to the
mandible. In all myomorphs a slip of the medial masseter runs
through the infraorbital canal to insert on the muzzle. This
gives a strong cranial pull on the lower jaw and aids grinding and
gnawing (King & Custance 1982). The temporalis muscle
originates from the temporal fossa and inserts on the coronoid
process and medial mandible. The pterygoideus muscle extends
from pterygoid/palatine bone and inserts on condyloid and
medial angular process. The digastricus muscle, which opens
the mouth, arises from the occipital bone and inserts just caudal
to the mandibular symphysis (Hebel & Stromberg 1986b).
Salivary glands
These consist of the greater salivary glands (parotid,
mandibular, and greater sublingual) and the minor salivary
glands (sublingual, buccal, palatine, and lingual). The parotid
gland is quite diffuse and extends from behind the ear almost
to the shoulder (Sharp & LaRegina 1998). The mandibular
salivary gland lies in the ventral cervical region about 10 mm
rostral to the thoracic inlet (head extended). It borders the
mandibular lymph node rostrally. The greater sublingual
gland is also tightly attached to this gland rostrally (Bivin et
al. 1979; Hebel & Stromberg 1986c).
Rats
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Nasal bone
Maxillary bone
Lacrimal
bone
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Zygomatic
arch
Tympanic
bulla
Frontal
bone
Squamosal
bone
Parietal
bone
Occipital bone
Occipital condyle
External occipital crest
Interparietal
bone
Incisive bone
Figure 10.12 Dorsal view of rat skull.
Figure 10.11 Dorsal radiograph of rat skull.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
The salivary glands and lymph nodes in the ventral
cervical region are covered by extensive areas of brown
fat, which extends from the mandible to the axilla and
should not be confused with lymph nodes or glands
(Greene 1962).
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Dorsal, medial and
ventral nasal conchae
Ethmoturbinates
Hard palate Cerebral hemisphere
Cerebellum
Atlas
Soft palate
Larynx
Esophagus
Trachea
Epiglottis
Root of
tongue
Mandible
Apex of tongue
Upper lip
Upper incisor
Incisive bone
Rugal folds
of hard palate
Hyoid bone
Figure 10.13 Midsaggital view through head of rat. The larynx is placed high in the oropharynx where it can directly access the nasopharynx, making
rats and rodents obligate nose breathers. From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small laboratory animals.
Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
Figure 10.14 Lateral radiograph of thorax.
Esophagus and stomach
The abdominal muscles and linea alba are very thin. The
esophagus runs slightly to the left in the cervical region and
then along the dorsal midline. It has a diameter of approxi-
mately 2 mm and has skeletal muscle along its length. The
esophagus enters the stomach in the middle of the lesser
curvature. A limiting ridge at this junction prevents rats
from vomiting (Bivin et al. 1979).
The stomach lies transversely, caudal to the rib cage on
the left side with its parietal surface covered by the left
liver lobe. A lobulated cushion of fat (which is embedded
in the mesorchium or mesovarium) is sandwiched between
the stomach and the abdominal wall. The oblong spleen is
also in contact with the greater curvature.
Rats can get Sialodacryoadenitis virus (SDAV) which causes
inflammation and edema of the cervical salivary glands and
lymph nodes, creating the appearance of mumps. SDAV is
highly contagious and usually self-limiting, although affected
rats pose an anesthetic risk due to enlarged glands pressing
on the respiratory tract (Fallon 1996).
CLINICAL NOTE
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The stomach is monogastric and divided into two parts by
a limiting ridge (Fig. 10.18). There is the non-glandular
forestomach, which like the esophagus is lined by thicker
stratified squamous epithelium. In the distal glandular part
the mucosa is occupied by fundic glands containing chief and
parietal cells. There is a heavily muscled pyloric sphincter.
The omentum is moderately developed and separates the
jejunum and cecum from the visceral face of the stomach
(Hebel & Stromberg 1986c).
Small intestine
The short intestine is approximately 113 cm in length. The
jejunum is the longest part (~100 cm) and fills the right
ventral abdomen. It has a long mesentery which allows the
jejunal loops to spread to all parts. The opening of the ileum
into the cecum lies close to the opening of the colon (Komarek
et al 2000)(Figs. 10.19 and 10.20).
Large intestine
The comma-shaped cecum commonly lies in the left caudal
abdomen, although its long mesentery means its position varies
quite considerably (Hebel & Stromberg 1986c; Komarek et
al. 2000b). Although it has no septa dividing it, as seen in other
rodents, it can be divided into base, body, and apex (Sharp &
LaRegina 1998). The body lies along the left lateral wall. Its
layers are much thinner than the other parts of the intestine
and lymphoid tissue is found near the apex, corresponding
to the appendix.
The colon is divided into ascending, transverse, and descend-
ing. The proximal colon is similar to the cecum but it becomes
thicker distally. At the end of the rectum a zone between the
skin and the glandular mucous membrane contains numer-
ous sebaceous glands, which could be called anal glands.
Liver
The liver lies in close contact with the rib cage. There are four
lobes: the left lateral, left medial, middle, and right lobe. The
visceral surface contacts the stomach, descending duodenum,
transverse colon, jejunum, and spleen. Rats have no gall bladder
(Bivin et al. 1979). The bile ducts unite to form the hepatic
duct, which runs through the pancreas. Bile and pancreatic
juices then enter via a common duct into the proximal
duodenum near the pylorus (Hebel & Stromberg 1986c;
Komarek 2000).
Pancreas
The pancreas is whitish gray, heavily lobulated and very
diffuse. It can be distinguished from adipose tissue by its
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Infraorbital part
of medial masseter
muscle
Orbit
Temporal muscles
(superficial and deep)
Digastricus
muscle
Medial masseter
muscle
Lateral masseter
muscle
Figure 10.15 Ventrodorsal view of thorax in rat. Note the well-
developed clavicular brace.
Figure 10.16 The correct alignment of incisor teeth in the adult rat.
The lower incisors lie behind the upper at rest and the ends should be
sharp like a chisel.
Figure 10.17 Muscles of mastication in the rat.
Note the powerful masseter muscle (medial and lateral), which extends
from the lateral zygomatic arch to the mandible. From Popesko, P.,
Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small
laboratory animals. Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
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Cardiac region
Esophagus
Lesser curvature
Proximal duodenum
Pyloric sphincter
Area of pyloric
glands
Area of fundic glands
Greater curvature
Limiting ridge
Non-glandular
area
Spleen Stomach Kidney
Cecum
Ascending colon
Rectum
Esophagus
Trachea
Thymus
Left lung
Heart
Liver Jejunum
Urinary bladder
Left ureter
Seminal vesicle
Figure 10.18 Internal cross-section of rat
stomach showing limiting ridge which divides
glandular from non-glandular tissue.
Figure 10.19 Right lateral thorax and abdomen (some ribs removed). From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy
of small laboratory animals. Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
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the urinary and reproductive openings are totally separate
(Hebel & Stromberg 1986g).
Urine output is approximately 1530 ml daily and protein-
uria can be a normal finding (Bivin et al. 1979). Unlike the rabbit,
the rat excretes only small quantities of calcium in the urine,
even when fed a calcium rich diet (Cheeke & Amber 1973).
REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
Male
In adults the scrotum is easily visible ventrolateral to the
anus. The skin of the scrotum is thin and covered with fine
hairs. The inguinal canal remains open throughout life and
has a distended diameter of 812 mm, which allows the
testis to have a scrotal or inguinal position. The testes descend
between 3040 days (Bivin et al. 1979; Greene 1962;
Hebel & Stromberg 1986g).
The testis is oval in shape and measures 2014 mm. The
head and tail of the epididymis are often sites of extremely
large fat pads. The penis can easily be extruded from the
prepuce and has an os penis (Hebel & Stromberg 1986g).
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darker color and firmer consistency (Hebel & Stromberg
1986c; Sharp & LaRegina 1998).
URINARY SYSTEM
The kidneys are bean shaped and reddish brown. The right
kidney lies at the level of L1L3, with the left kidney
lying slightly caudal to the right. Both lie equidistant
from the midline with their long axis converging
cranially. In healthy rats adipose tissue surrounds the hilus
and sides. Like other rodents, the kidney is unipapillate
and has one papilla and one calyx entering the ureter
directly (Bivin et al. 1979; Hebel & Stromberg 1986g;
Sharp & LaRegina 1998). The presence of more long loop
nephrons gives the rat an excellent ability to concentrate its
urine (28% in comparison to 14% in man) (Bivin et al.
1979).
The urinary bladder lies cranial to the rim of the pubis. It
is pear shaped when empty and spherical when full, stretching
to 2515 mm or more. In the male, the ventral lobe of the
prostate gland attaches to the ventrolateral wall of the blad-
der and the urethra extends through the penis. In the female
Figure 10.20 Ventral abdomen of male rat.
The cecum of the rat has a very long mesen-
tery so the location can vary. From Popesko,
P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour
atlas of anatomy of small laboratory animals.
Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
Middle liver lobe
Right liver
lobe
Duodenum
Jejunum
Ascending
colon
Urinary bladder
Prostate
Left medial
liver lobe
Left lateral
liver lobe
Stomach
Spleen
Cecum
Ileum
Scrotum
Seminal vesicles
Colon
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Accessory genital glands
Male rats have highly developed accessory sex glands (Bivin
et al. 1979; Hebel & Stromberg 1986g) (Fig. 10.21). These pro-
duce a gelatinous copulatory plug, which is visible in the vagina
post mating and is thought to prevent semen leaking out.
Seminal vesicles These lie dorsolateral to the urinary
bladder and are in contact with the rectum dorsally.
They are large and lobulated, opening into the lower
end of the vas deferens. Each is enclosed in a capsule
together with the coagulating gland.
Prostate gland This is bilateral and has three lobes:
the dorsal, the lateral, and the ventral. The dorsal lobe,
also known as the coagulating gland, lies close to the
seminal vesicles (Komarek et al. 2000b).
Ampullary glands These are the glands of the ductus
deferens and lie near the bladder.
Bulbourethral glands These are found near the
urethra as it exits the pelvis.
Preputial glands
Preputial glands lie in the subcutaneous fat near the penis
and open into the prepuce. These are sebaceous glands that
secrete a pheromone used for scent marking. These regress
with ageing and the glands can fill up with stagnant sebum.
An analogue is also present in the female (Hebel & Stromberg
1986g; Komarek et al. 2000b).
Female
The right ovary is located at the level of L45 just caudal to
the right kidney. The left ovary lies at L56 caudal to the
left kidney. The left ovary is nearer the midline than the
right. Both are embedded in fat (Bivin et al. 1979; Hebel &
Stromberg 1986g). The oviduct is convoluted and winds
around the ovary in 10 to 12 garland-like loops. The uterus
is duplex, meaning the two parts are separate along its entire
length, uniting only at the vagina (Greene 1962; Hebel &
Stromberg 1986g; King & Custance 1982). There is partial
fusion caudally for 710 mm where they share the outer
longitudinal layer of myometrium. Like most mammals an
anastomosis between the ovarian artery (a branch of the aorta)
and the uterine artery (a branch of the internal iliac) occurs
in the uterine mesentery (Del Campo & Ginther 1972).
The mesovarium and mesometrium contain voluminous
amounts of fat, which surrounds the kidneys, abdominal
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Right kidney
Right ureter
Gland of ductus
deferens
Ductus deferens
Head of epididymis
Right scrotum with testis
Bulbocavernosus muscle
Tail of epididymis
Urinary bladder
(turned over)
Preputial gland
Abdominal
body wall
Vesicular gland
Coagulating gland
Dorsal lateral
prostate
Ventral prostate
Body of penis
Prepuce
Glans penis
Bulbourethral gland
Figure 10.21 Ventral view of male genital
tract showing the extensive accessory glands.
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wall, and intestinal loops. There are no vaginal glands. In the
female rat the urethra and vaginal orifice are completely
separate. The only genital structure connected with the
urinary system is the clitoris. The urethra lies cranially at
the base of the clitoris and both are located in a high cone
with clitoral glands. The vaginal opening lies caudal to this
and is closed by a membrane until puberty in the female.
The female has six pairs of mammary glands (Bivin et al.
1979; Hebel & Stromberg 1986g).
Clitoral (preputial) glands
These paired glands lie in the subcutaneous fat near the
clitoris and open into a preputial fold. These are sebaceous
glands that secrete a pheromone used for scent marking
(Komarek et al. 2000b).
Mammary glands
The glandular tissue changes volume and appearance during
the estrous cycle, pregnancy, and lactation. Prior to the first
pregnancy these glands consist of a few short tubules
around the teats but these expand into each gland before
parturition.
The cervical gland is rudimentary whereas the thoracic
gland is diffuse, contains three nipples, and surrounds the
base of the forelimb. The abdominal gland is only mar-
ginally developed while the inguinal gland has three nipples
and surrounds the base of the hindlimbs (Komarek 2000).
The thoracic and inguinal glands act as two discrete com-
plexes, separated by a space just behind the ribs (Fig. 10.22).
During lactation the thoracic glands expand rostrally as far
as the parotid and mandibular glands, cranially and medially
over the upper arm, and along the lateral thoracic wall.
Caudally, the inguinal gland covers the lateral abdominal wall
right back to the stifle and the anal region (Hebel & Stromberg
1986e; Komarek et al 2000b; Maeda et al. 2000).
At the base of each teat the transition zone between hair-
less and hair has large sebaceous glands. There are no teats
in the male although mammary tissue can still be found in
the corresponding area (Hebel & Stromberg 1986e).
Reproductive physiology
Photoperiod has a strong influence on the hypothalamus,
which means it also affects the estrous cycle. The luteinizing
hormone (LH) surge is strongly linked to the circadian rhythm
and usually occurs in the late afternoon. Stress and suckling
suppresses LH secretion and, hence, ovulation (Maeda et al.
2000).
Estrous cycle
Females are polyestrous, with a 45 day estrus. Ovulation
occurs 910 hours after the commencement of estrus. Vaginal
Rats
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Cervical
gland
Thoracic
gland
Abdominal
gland
Inguinal
gland
(b)
Vagina
(a)
Anus
Mammary papillae
Urethra
Preputial (clitoral)
glands
Figure 10.22 Mammary tissue of the
female rat is extensive, reaching from the neck
and elbow to the inguinal region. There are six
mammary glands on each side in the rat
three in the thorax, 1 abdominal, and two in
the inguinal region.
(a) Lateral view of mammary glands
(b) Ventral view of mammary glands
From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J.
(1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small
laboratory animals. Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK:
Wolfe with permission.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
smears can be used to identify the phase of the cycle as
estrogen causes a proliferation of vaginal epithelial cells during
proestrus (Harkness & Wagner 1995) (Table 10.1).
Gestation
The gestation period is 2123 days. The rat has a hemo-
chorial placenta. There is little change in the uterus in
the first trimester but after this it moves ventrally,
displacing intestinal coils cranially. Parturition is usually by
day and is quick, taking about 90 minutes to produce a
litter which can vary in size from 3 to 18 (Maeda et al.
2000).
Birth
The pups weigh 56 g at birth and are altricial, with closed
ears and eyes (Harkness & Wagner 1995). They have no
intrinsic thermoregulatory mechanisms until the end of the
first week of life so are kept warm by siblings and the mother
(Fallon 1996; Koolhaas 1999). The ears open within 4 days
and eyes open by the end of the 2nd week. Full hair has
grown by the 710th day (Baker 1979; Fallon 1996; Koolhaas
1999).
ENDOCRINE ORGANS
Pituitary gland
This reddish-brown organ is located in a bony cavity, the
sella turcica, ventral to the diencephalon, and caudal to the
optic chiasma.
Thyroid gland
The thyroid lobes lie ventrolateral to the first 4 to 5
tracheal rings and consists of two pinkish lobes connected
by a delicate isthmus (Komarek et al 2000).
Parathyroid
The rat has only one pair of parathyroid glands, which
usually lie at the cranial aspect of the thyroid gland. They
are circular and paler in color.
Adrenal glands
These are brown and beanlike and lie in the retroperitoneal
fat close to the cranial pole of each kidney and attached to
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Mammary tumors are common in rats, and due to the
extensive distribution of the mammary tissue, can appear
anywhere from the axilla to the groin. They can occur in both
males (16%) and females and incidence increases at over
18 months of age (Altman & Goodman 1979). About 80 to
90% are benign fibroadenomas (Percy & Barthold 2001) so
surgical removal is recommended (Figs. 10.23 and 10.24).
They can be associated frequently with pituitary tumors
(Altman & Goodman 1979).
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 10.24 Rat undergoing surgery to remove large inguinal
tumor. Histopathology revealed a benign fibroadenoma.
Tumors of the pituitary glands are extremely common in
ageing rats, with more females than males being affected
(Altman & Goodman 1979; Percy & Barthold 2001).
CLINICAL NOTE
Figure 10.23 Female rat with large tumor of inguinal mammary
gland.
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the ventral sublumbar muscles. The right adrenal is covered
by the caudate lobe of the liver. The left adrenal lies nearer
to the midline than the right. The adrenal gland is larger in
the female than the male. Wild rats also have larger adrenals
than domesticated laboratory rats (Bivin et al. 1979; Percy
& Barthold 2001).
SENSES
The rat, being mainly nocturnal, has a well-developed sense
of hearing, touch, and smell, but vision is poor (Sharp &
LaRegina 1998). Albinos have especially poor eyesight due
to retinal degeneration.
Sight
The eyes are small and placed laterally. Although it can see
through 360 degrees the rat has a blind spot in front of its
nose. The cornea is large and the large lens is round, with
little power of accommodation. The retina is rod dominated
(as would be expected in nocturnal species) and holan-
giotic, with radial vessels and a centrally located optic disk.
Although the rat does not move its eye, the ocular muscles
are quite well developed. Unlike other rodents, a venous
orbital sinus is not developed but there is a venous plexus
formed by the anastomoses of the dorsal and ventral
ophthalmic veins (Hebel & Stromberg 1986f).
Eyelids
The palpebral fissure opens between the 14th and 17th days
after birth. The eyelids are covered by hair. Two lacrimal
ducts open at the puncta located at the medial canthus of
the eye and these join to form the 22 mm long nasolacrimal
duct, which opens just caudal to the nostril in the vestibule
(Hebel & Stromberg 1986f).
Harderian gland
This conical, red-brown gland lies behind the eye and fills
a large part of the orbit. It is larger than the eye itself and
its excretory ducts fuse to form one single duct that empties
into the medial canthus of the eye behind the nictitating
membrane (Bivin et al. 1979; Komarek et al 2000b). This
gland secretes lipids and a porphyrin red pigment which
fluoresces under ultraviolet light. These secretions play a
role in ocular lubrication and pheromone behavior and are
spread over the skin during grooming. This hypersecretes
when the rat is stressed, creating a red-brown deposit around
the eyes and nose known as chromodacryorrhea (Harkness
& Wagner 1995; Hebel & Stromberg 1986f) (Fig. 10.25).
Lacrimal gland
The rats has two pairs of lacrimal glands: the extraorbital and
the infraorbital. The extraorbital is located at the base of the
ear, rostrodorsal to the parotid gland. It is flattened and disklike.
The infraorbital gland is located at the caudal orbit. The duct
of both glands join to open into the conjunctiva at the lateral
canthus of the eye (Bivin et al. 1979; Hebel & Stromberg
1986f; Komarek et al. 2000b; Sharp & LaRegina 1998).
Hearing
Rats can hear sounds of high frequency (6080 kHz) and
use ultrasound frequencies for social vocalizations. They have
a high pitched squeak with two types of call: one above
20 kHz (the limit of human hearing) and one at 50 kHz.
Both males and females use the 50 kHz sound during copu-
latory behavior. Ultrasonic vocalizations (80 kHz) are used
for maternalyoung interactions, sexualterritorial interactions
or as a warning signal. Rats can produce this noise by a
whistling associated with respiration (Koolhaas 1999).
Rats
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Phase of cycle Length (hours) Vaginal cytology Presence of Leukocytes
Proestrus 12 Nucleated epithelial cells Small number
Estrus 12 Cornified cells, no nuclei Small number
Metestrus 21 Cornified epithelial cells Large numbers
Diestrus 57 Few epithelial cells Large numbers
Table 10.1 Interpretation of vaginal smears in the rat (Sharp 1998; Baker 1979)
Figure 10.25 Chromodacryorrhea in an aged rat. Stress or illness
causes the Harderian gland to hypersecrete a porphyrin red pigment
creating the impression of red tears.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Ears
The pinna is covered by thin, short hairs. The tympanic cavity
is large, as in most rodents. A gland called the zymbal gland
lies at the ear base (Hebel & Stromberg 1986f).
Olfaction
The olfactory lobes of the brain are large and over 50% of
the nasal cavity is lined by olfactory epithelium, giving rats
their acute sense of smell. Rats, like all rodents, use their
scent glands, feces, urine, and vaginal secretions for olfactory
communication.
Touch
The vibrissae are extremely sensitive to touch and are as
sensitive as the fingertips of primates. These, combined with
the acute sense of smell, compensate for the lack of vision.
They are used continually in order to gauge distance and in
locomotion (Koolhaas 1999).
INTEGUMENT
The hair is divided into guard hairs and undercoat. The wild
color is agouti, meaning brown and black on top with a lighter
underbelly. The rat has tactile vibrissae which are essential
for the animals orientation. They have sensory bulbs at their
base, and an extensive nerve and blood supply. There are 50
to 60 of them located on each side of the upper lip and nose
in 8 to 10 rows and they are innervated by the infraorbital
nerve. Smaller tactile hairs are also found on the lower lip,
chin, and upper eyelid (Hebel & Stromberg 1986e).
The epidermis is thin and mostly covered with hairs. The
dorsal skin has a higher water content but less lipid than the
abdominal skin. Numerous mast cells are found throughout
the dermis and subcutis (except the tail). The subcutis
should only contain moderate amounts of white fat. Brown
fat is deposited between the scapulae, ventral neck and
axillae in the thoracic inlet and inguinal region (Hebel &
Stromberg 1986e; Komarek et al 2000b).
Skin glands
The sebaceous glands are found around the hair follicles.
Modified sebaceous glands are found in the region of
the oral commissure, the anus and prepuce, and around the
teats. Auditory sebaceous glands, called Zymbals glands
open into the external ear canal (Hebel & Stromberg
1986e).
Sweat glands are only found around the footpad where
they help in creating friction. The epithelium of these glands
has only one cell type and so are unique among comparable
species (Hebel & Stromberg 1986e). Rats have no special-
ized scent glands but produce pheromones through urine,
feces, milk, and skin. These affect reproductive behavior,
dominance, and territorial behavior.
Zymbals gland
These are large modified sebaceous glands that surround
the base of the ear. Tumors of this gland can occur as an
ulcerated mass within the external ear canal and these may
become so large as to involve the whole face and neck
(Altman & Goodman 1979).
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KEY POI NTS
Open rooted, yellow incisors; closed rooted molars
Lower incisors are 2 to 3 times longer than upper
Stomach has glandular and non-glandular portions
No gall bladder
Female has a duplex uterus and urethral orifice is
separate from vulva
Extensive mammary tissue from axilla to groin in female
Acute sense of smell and hearing
Prominent Harderian gland which hypersecretes red
tears
As humans cannot hear high frequencies care should be taken
with high pitched and ultrasound noises emitted from
equipment like televisions, video recorders, and computers.
Fire alarms have been found to affect estrous cycles in rats,
so makes of lower frequencies have been designed for use in
laboratories (Gamble 1976). Rats are less sensitive than
humans to noises below 1000Hz so will be less affected by
noises like air conditioning (Baker 1979).
CLINICAL NOTE
Older entire male rats often develop yellow-brown
sebaceous secretions along the dorsum, which are often
confused with mites or lice. This effect is enhanced by
testosterone and inhibited by estrogen (Fallon 1996).
CLINICAL NOTE
Rats, like all rodents, are obligate nose breathers and rely on
healthy nares not only for respiration but also for olfaction
and feeding. Hence, the rapid debilitating effects
of respiratory disease (Harkema & Morgan 1996).
CLINICAL NOTE
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REFERENCES
Altman, N. H., & Goodman, D. G. (1979) Neoplastic diseases.
In H. J. Baker, J. R. Lindsey & S.H. Weisbroth (eds.), The
laboratory rat. Vol. 1, Biology & diseases. New York: Academic
Press. pp. 334376.
Baker, D. E. (1979) Reproduction and breeding. In H. J. Baker, J. R.
Lindsey & S.H. Weisbroth (eds.), The laboratory rat. Vol. 1,
Biology & diseases. New York: Academic Press. pp. 154167.
Bivin, W. S., Crawford, M. P., & Brewer, N. R. (1979)
Morphophysiology. In H. J. Baker, J. R. Lindsey, & S. H.
Weisbroth (eds.), The laboratory rat. Vol. 1, Biology & diseases.
New York: Academic Press. pp. 74100.
Cheeke, P. R., & Amber, J. W. (1973) Comparative calcium
excretion by rats and rabbits. Journal of Animal Science 37,
450454.
Del Campo, C. H., & Ginther, O. J. (1972) Vascular anatomy of the
uterus and ovaries and the unilateral luteolytic effect of the
uterus: Guinea pigs, rats, hamsters and rabbits. American Journal
of Veterinary Research 33, 25612578.
Fallon, M. T. (1996) Rats and mice. In K. Laber-Laird, M. M.
Swindle & P. Flecknell (eds.), Handbook of rodent and rabbit
medicine. Oxford: Pergamon. pp. 139.
Gamble, M. R. (1976) Fire alarms and oestrous in rats. Laboratory
Animals 10, 161163.
Greene, E. C. (1962) Gross anatomy. In E.J. Farris & J.Q. Griffith
(eds.), The rat in laboratory investigation, 2nd edn. New York:
Hafner. pp. 2450.
Harkema, J. R., & Morgan, K. T. (1996) Normal morphology of the
nasal passages in laboratory rodents. In T. C. Jones, D. L.
Dungworth & U. Mohr (eds.), Monographs on pathology
of laboratory animals, 2nd edn. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. pp. 318.
Harkness, J.E., & Wagner, J.E. (1995) The biology and medicine
of rabbits and rodents, 4th edn. Baltimore: William & Wilkins.
Biology and husbandry the rat; pp. 6573.
Hebel, R., & Stromberg, M. W. (1986a) Anatomy and embryology
of the laboratory rat. Worthsee, Germany: Biomed Verlag.
Osteology A; pp. 122.
Hebel, R., & Stromberg, M. W. (1986b) Anatomy and embryology
of the laboratory rat. Worthsee, Germany: Biomed Verlag.
B Myology; pp. 2545.
Hebel, R., & Stromberg, M. W. (1986c) Anatomy and embryology
of the laboratory rat. Worthsee, Germany: Biomed Verlag.
C Digestive system; pp. 4655.
Hebel, R., & Stromberg, M. W. (1986d) Anatomy and embryology
of the laboratory rat. Worthsee, Germany: Biomed Verlag.
D Respiratory system; pp. 5864.
Hebel, R., & Stromberg, M. W. (1986e) Anatomy and embryology
of the laboratory rat. Worthsee, Germany: Biomed Verlag. M The
integument; pp. 225229.
Hebel, R., & Stromberg, M. W. (1986f) Anatomy and embryology
of the laboratory rat. Worthsee, Germany: Biomed Verlag.
L Sensory Organs; pp. 218223.
Hebel, R., & Stromberg, M. W. (1986g) Anatomy and embryology
of the laboratory rat. Worthsee, Germany: Biomed Verlag. E, F, G
Urinary, male and female reproductive organs; pp. 6587.
King, G. M., & Custance, D. R. (1982) Colour atlas of vertebrate
anatomy. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific. The rat; pp. 6.16.18.
Komarek, V. (2000) Gross anatomy. In G. J. Krinke (ed.),
The laboratory rat. San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press.
pp. 253277.
Komarek ,V., Gembardt, C., Krinke, A., Mahrous, T.A., & Schalti,
P. (2000b) Synopsis of the organ anatomy. In G. J. Krinke (ed.),
The laboratory rat. San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press.
pp. 283323.
Koolhaas, J. M. (1999) The laboratory rat. In T. Poole (ed.),
The UFAW handbook on the care and management of laboratory
animals, 7th edn. Vol. 1. pp. 313331.
Maeda, K., Ohkura, S., & Tsukamura, H. (2000) Physiology
of reproduction. In G. J. Krinke (ed.), The laboratory rat.
San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press. pp. 145171.
Percy, D. H., & Barthold, S. W. (2001) Pathology of laboratory
rodents and rabbits, 2nd edn. Ames: Iowa State University Press.
Rat; pp. 107158.
Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1992) A colour atlas
of anatomy of small laboratory animals. Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK :
Wolfe. Rat, mouse, hamster; pp. 11105.
Schour, I., & Massler, M. (1962) The teeth. In Farris & Griffith
(eds.), The rat in laboratory investigation, 2nd edn. New York:
Hafner. pp. 104160.
Sharp, P. E., & LaRegina, M. C. (1998) Important biological features.
In M. A. Suckow (ed.), The laboratory rat. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC
Press. pp. 119.
Yu, B. P. (1994) How diet affects the ageing process. Proceedings
of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine 205,
pp. 97105.
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INTRODUCTION
In comparison to the rat and guinea pig, the Syrian hamster
(Mesocricetus auratus) has only recently been domesticated
(Derrell Clark 1987). The first wild Syrian hamsters were
collected only 75 years ago from the north-west Syrian desert.
Our current pet and laboratory hamsters have since been
bred from a limited gene pool of 3 littermates captured in
1930, 11 more captured in 1971 and 3 more in 1978 (Derrell
Clark 1987; Fulton 1968; Nowak 1999). The original ones
were a reddish brown color and hence were originally called
Golden hamsters. The development of a vast variety of
different colors since then means that they are now more
correctly called the Syrian hamster.
The Syrian hamster is unique among pet rodents in that
they are not gregarious and best kept singly because the
female will attack the male except when in estrus. They are
also nocturnal. As they can be quite aggressive when disturbed
from sleep they have earned an unfair reputation for being
pugnacious (Lipman & Foltz 1996).
Hamsters and gerbils are from the family Cricetidae and
differ from rats and mice in having a haired tail and molar
teeth with cusps arranged in two parallel rows instead of
three (Derrell Clark 1987).
THERMOREGULATION
The recommended temperature range for the hamster is
2024 C, with a relative humidity of 5455%. As they are
nocturnal, the best photoperiod for optimal reproduction
used in laboratories is 14 hours night and 10 hours day. This
is in contrast to other rodents, which do better with 12 hour
periods. Photoperiod appears to be mediated through the
pineal gland. Despite their dozy appearance by day hamsters
are extremely active at night. In fact, fit hamsters have been
known to travel several kilometers on an exercise wheel.
Hamsters have a patch of brown fat over the scapula blades
that extends from the cervical to the mid-thoracic region.
In the abdominal region the adrenal glands, renal hila, and
parts of the ureters are also sheathed in brown fat. During
periods of cold the rich blood supply to this tissue increases
and the weight of the tissue increases (Hoffman 1968).
Tissue protein levels increase while fat levels decrease. The
reverse happens in warm weather (Bivin et al. 1987).
Hibernation
If environmental temperatures are lower than 5 C hamsters
can enter a temporary hibernation, thus lowering their body
temperature, heart, and respiratory rate. They can, however,
remain sensitive to touch during this period (Lipman & Foltz
1996). This pseudo-hibernation can also be stimulated by
shorter day length and less light. The converse can also be
true in that, exposed to warm ambient temperature, the
hamster will go into a deep sleep and if aroused suddenly
will be most pugnacious (Hoffman 1968).
GENERAL EXTERNAL ANATOMY
The Syrian hamster is short tailed and stocky, with a very
large amount of loose skin dorsally. The body weight of the
mature male is about 85110 g; the female is bigger at
95120 g (Derrell Clark 1987; Nowak 1999; Whittaker
1999). The original wild hamster was reddish-gold with a
gray ventrum, but many color varieties now exist from
cinnamon, cream, and piebald to albino (Harkness & Wagner
1995) (Fig. 11.1).
The eyes are black and exopthalmic and the incisor teeth
are colored yellow due to iron pigments (Derrell Clark 1987).
External genitalia
The sexually mature male has an enlarged, rounded posterior
end when the testes are descended, pigmented flank
glands, and a longer anogenital distance than the female.
The female has a more pointed posterior, less prominent
flank glands, and a completely separate vaginal and urethral
opening (Bivin et al. 1987; Lipman & Foltz 1996) (Fig. 11.2).
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Hamsters
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
SKELETAL SYSTEM
The vertebral formula is 7 cervical, 13 thoracic, 6 lumbar,
4 sacral and 1314 caudal (Bivin et al. 1987). There are
four digits in the front feet and five in the back feet. There
are seven sternal and six post-sternal ribs (Figs. 11.3 and
11.7). Two sternopericardial ligaments connect the
pericardial sac to the sternum.
Abdominal cavity
This is the largest body cavity, extending from the diaphragm
to the pelvic cavity. The greater omentum is thin and fatty
and extends from the greater curvature to the duodenum
and transverse colon.
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CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
The heart is in the midline and is in contact with the thoracic
wall at ribs 35 (Bivin et al. 1987). The heart rate can vary
from 250 to 500 beats per minute. There are three main
branches arising from the aortic arch (innominate, left com-
mon carotid, and left subclavian), and three caval veins (two
cranial vena cavae and one caudal vena cava) enter the right
atrium. As in the rat, the pulmonary veins contain sheaths
of cardiac muscle fibers within the vessel walls (Bivin et al.
1987; Magalhaes 1968).
Venepuncture
The blood volume of the Syrian hamster is about 78 ml/kg
(Bivin et al. 1987). Due to lack of a tail, vein blood sampling
can be difficult, but the saphenous or jugular veins can be
tried (McClure 1999). Laboratory animals are often bled via
the orbital venous sinus and cardiac puncture, but this is not
recommended in pet animals (Whittaker 1999). Hamsters
have a rapid coagulation time so heparin may need to be
used.
RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
The respiratory rate is approximately 3032 breaths per
minute. Hamsters have well-developed nasal turbinates that
are lined by nasal mucosa whose function is to filter and
humidify the incoming air and also to warm or cool the air
before it passes to the lungs. This is aided by many nasal
glands which open into the external nares. Like the rat, they
also have well-developed olfactory epithelium and bulbs,
giving the hamster its keen sense of smell (Bivin et al. 1987;
Magalhaes 1968). The lungs have a large single left lobe
Male
Urinary orifice
Vagina
Anus
Female
Figure 11.2 External genitalia. (a) The male has a longer anogenital distance, (b) The female has a short anogenital distance with a completely separate
vaginal and urethral opening.
Figure 11.1 Many color varieties of hamster now exist, hence the name
change from Golden to Syrian hamster.
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Hamsters (Cricetidae) differ from rats and mice (Muridae)
in having molar cusps in two parallel longitudinal rows instead
of being arranged in three rows (Derrell Clark 1987). The
crowns allow retention of food, which makes hamsters, like
humans, susceptible to caries. Male hamsters are more prone
to caries than females (Bivin et al. 1987).
The tongue is well developed and very flexible. The
muscular bulge at the base contains the small hyoid bone.
There are four types of lingual papillae: filiform, fungiform,
foliate, and vallate. The major salivary glands are submaxil-
lary, parotid, and sublingual (Bivin et al. 1987; Magalhaes
1968).
Hamsters
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with four lobes on the right: the cranial, middle, caudal,
and accessory (Bivin et al. 1987). The thymus lies in the
cranial mediastinum and consists of two lobes that decrease
in size with age (Fig. 11.9).
DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Feeding patterns
Hamsters are omnivorous and coprophagic (Lipman & Foltz
1996). They feed in 5-minute bursts followed by a 2-hour
fast (Bivin et al. 1987). Food intake is about 57 g daily and
water intake is about 10 ml. The hamster has evolved certain
patterns of behavior consistent with a burrowing and hoarding
desert animal. Unlike the greedy rat, they do not increase
their food intake following periods of fasting; however, they
do hoard away more food in case of further deprivation
later (Newcomer et al. 1987).
Dentition
The oral aperture can stretch from 12 mm vertically to
17 mm horizontally. The dental formula is 1/1,0/0,0/0,3/3
(Bivin et al. 1987; Lipman & Foltz 1996). The hamster has
open-rooted yellow incisors and rooted (brachiodont)
molars. The shorter upper incisors can be replaced in
1 week whereas the longer lower incisors take 2.53 weeks
to regrow. The diastema is longer in the maxilla than the
mandible (Figs. 11.4 and 11.5). The mandibular symphysis
is freely movable and may not fuse (Harkness & Wagner
1995).
Figure 11.4 Radiograph of hamster that got the wire of its water bottle
trapped in the pouch. Note the large tympanic bulla typical of a nocturnal
species.
Calcaneus
Scapula
Humerus
Sacrum
Ilium
Ischium
Fibula
Tibia
Femur
Patella
Metatarsals
Ulna
Radius
Carpus
Metacarpals
Sternum
Figure 11.3 Skeleton of the Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus). From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy
of small laboratory animals. Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
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Cheek pouch
The Arabic term for the hamster in its native Syria is master
of the saddle bags on account of their using their pouches
to transport food, bedding, and even young in times of
danger (Harkness & Wagner 1995; Lipman & Foltz 1996;
Nowak 1999). The pouches are highly distensible invagina-
tions of the lateral buccal epithelium, which extend from
the mouth as far as the dorsocaudal scapulae (Harkness &
Wagner 1995) (Fig. 11.6).
The pouch measures 48 mm wide when empty and
20 mm when full (Bivin et al. 1987). When filled, the pouches
cover the parotid gland, masseter muscles, and lateral neck
and shoulder muscles. The mucosa has pale pink folds and
is extremely vascular, being supplied by three branches of
the external carotid artery. It has, however, no lymphatic
supply or adjacent lymph nodes. It is transparent with no
hair or glands (Magalhaes 1968).
Cheek pouches are used in research as they are immuno-
logically privileged sites. This is thought to be due to the
poor lymphatic blood supply and the lack of glandular
tissue. The fact that it can also be easily everted makes it
very useful for research on microcirculation, tumors, and
transplant surgery (Harkness & Wagner 1995).
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Nasal bone
Incisive bone
Frontal bone
Parietal bone
Occipital condyle
Tympanic bulla
Angular process
Condylar process
Zygomatic arch
Molar
teeth
Lower incisor
Diastema
Upper incisor
Maxillary bone
Coronoid process
Body of mandible
Figure 11.5 Skull of Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus). From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small
laboratory animals. Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
Figure 11.6 Syrian hamster with bulging cheek pouch.
Figure 11.7 Skeleton of European hamster (Cricetus cricetus) with cast
made to show the extent of the cheek pouches. The European hamster is
three to four times larger than the Syrian hamster. Its cheek pouches
measure about 60 mm 15 mm and have a carrying capacity of 2030 g!
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The wall is composed of four layers: keratinized, stratified
squamous epithelium, dense collagenous connective tissue,
striated muscle fibers, and loose areolar connective tissue
where it joins the underlying structures. There are blood
vessels and nerves in the connective tissue and muscle. The
pouch is emptied by the massaging action of the front feet
along with the tongue (Bivin et al. 1987; Magalhaes 1968).
Stomach
The esophagus is lined by keratinized squamous epithelium and
leads into the non-glandular part of the stomach. The stomach
has two compartments: the non-glandular and the glandular.
They are distinguished by a muscular-like sphincter, which
may regulate passage of ingesta between the two sections. The
esophageal opening lies just cranial to this constriction. The
lesser curvature of the stomach is almost non existent as
the cardia is located quite near to the pylorus, making vomiting
impossible (Hoover et al. 1969; Lipman & Foltz 1996). The
total dimensions of the stomach are approximately 3.52 cm
(Hoover et al. 1969).
Forestomach (non-glandular)
The forestomach is lined by squamous epithelium and a thick
muscular layer that is similar to the rumen, although it lacks
ruminal papillae. The bacteria are mainly gram-positive,
with some gram-negative coliforms (Bivin et al. 1987). The
pH is higher than in the glandular stomach, which indicates
that mixing of food from both areas does not occur
(Hoover et al. 1969).
The presence of volatile fatty acids (mainly acetic) in the
forestomach indicates that some fermentation does go on
here, with some being absorbed. However, this fermentation
role may not be very large as food only stays in the forestomach
for about 1 hour (Hoover et al. 1969).
Glandular stomach
This resembles the stomach in the normal monogastric
animal and is lined by glandular mucous membranes.
Intestines (Figs. 11.8 and 11.9)
The jejunum is 2.5 times longer than the duodenum (Bivin et
al. 1987). The ileum is short and leads into the cecum, which
is sacculated and divided into an apical and basal portion. The
cecum bends back on itself and divides into four valves (Bivin
et al. 1987). The normal bacterial flora are Bacteroides spp. and
lactobacillus, plus a few coliforms and clostridia. The pH here
is higher than in the non-glandular stomach, which suggests
either more active fermentation or perhaps better buffering.
Liver and pancreas
The liver has four lobes: right and left medial, and right and
left lateral. The gall bladder is located in the ventral median
lobe in the right cranioventral section. The pancreas is well
Hamsters
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defined but often yellow-white in color, owing to associated
adipose tissue.
URINARY SYSTEM
Hamsters are adapted for the desert environment by having
both renal and respiratory conservation mechanisms, but
unlike some desert rodents they cannot survive on metabolic
water alone (Newcomer et al. 1987).
The kidneys are reddish brown and bean shaped. The right
kidney lies at the level of L2L4 and the left kidney lies at
L34. The kidney is unipapillate, having a very long papilla
extending out into the ureter (Bivin et al. 1987; Magalhaes
1968). This is an adaptation to an arid environment as it pro-
duces very concentrated urine and prevents dehydration.
Urine is thick and creamy with a normal pH of 5.18.4.
Hamsters usually produce up to 7 ml of urine per day but
this can increase up to 75 ml/day in hamsters with diabetes
(Harkness & Wagner 1995). Proteinuria can be found even
in normal hamsters.
REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
Hamsters can reach sexual maturity from 6 weeks of age but
for optimal breeding it is best if the male is 1012 weeks
and the female at least 810 weeks before being bred.
Breeding ceases after 14 months of age.
Male
The anogenital distance is longer in the male, which has a
more prominent genital papilla. There is a baculum or os
penis consisting of two lateral prongs and a dorsal prong.
In mature males a thick fat pad covers the proximal end of
the testicle and almost half the epididymis (the dorsomedial
side of the testicle), giving the hamster a very large scrotal
silhouette (Bivin et al. 1987; Ferm 1987). Male accessory
glands include the ampulla glands, seminal vesicles, coagu-
lating glands, three lobed prostate, and bulbourethral glands.
Like other rodents, the adult male hamster produces a
urethral plug (Kent 1968).
Female
The urinary opening is cranial and the anus is caudal, with the
vaginal opening in between. The vagina has a pair of vaginal
pouches that extend caudally, terminating at the level of
Hamsters exposed to natural daylight and temperature will show
seasonal variation in testicle size, having the lowest masses in
winter. Hence, the number of anxious pet owners presenting
at veterinary clinics in summer concerned that their female
hamster has suddenly developed two enormous tumors!
CLINICAL NOTE
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
the vaginal orifice. Like the rat, the uterus is duplex and leads
into two cervices with the undivided part being 78 mm
long (Bivin et al. 1987; Ferm 1987; Kent 1968). There are
6 or 7 pairs of mammary glands extending from the thorax
to the inguinal region (Fig. 11.10). Flank glands are present
but are less prominent than in the male, owing to their
lighter pigmentation.
The ovaries are oval, situated dorsolateral to the kidneys,
and are completely enclosed in a fat-filled ovarian bursa.
The oviduct is long and tightly coiled. Like in the guinea pig
and rat, the uterine artery in the hamster provides a major
portion of the blood supply to the ovary (Bivin et al. 1987).
In some hamsters, coils of the ovarian and uterine arteries
anastomose close to the ovary (Del Campo & Ginther 1972;
Ferm 1987).
Estrous cycle
The hamster is seasonally polyestrous and has a very regular
4 day estrous cycle. Ovulation occurs about 12 hours after
the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge, usually resulting in the
release of the ova at night, which is in keeping with the
hamsters nocturnal habits. The female hamster will become
sexually receptive only for the few hours post ovulation.
On the 2nd day of estrus she will produce a white stringy
discharge which becomes waxier on day 3. At the end of estrus
the female produces a copious white, viscous discharge that
has a distinct odor (Harkness & Wagner 1995; Kent 1968).
The usually pugnacious female will tolerate the male at
peak estrus and copulation takes place immediately after
introduction of the male. This usually last 30 minutes and a
copulatory plug can be observed after mating. Pseudopreg-
nancy can occur after infertile mating.
Gestation
The Syrian hamster has the shortest known gestation for
any eutherian mammal, being only 1518 days (Lipman &
Foltz 1996; Newcomer et al. 1987; Whittaker 1999). The
young are born altricial, with closed eyes and earflaps, but
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Although the vagina and cervix do show cyclical changes
in response to ovarian hormones, vaginal cytology is
complicated by the presence of vaginal pouches. These paired
vaginal pouches collect exfoliative cells and leukocytes, so
only smears made daily would be accurate (Whittaker 1999).
CLINICAL NOTE
Stomach
Spleen
Left lateral
liver lobe
Descending
colon
Body of
cecum
Apex of
cecum
Urinary
bladder
Abdominal
wall
Ascending
colon
Ovary
Jejunum
Uterus
Ascending
colon
Xiphoid cartilage
Right medial
Liver lobe
Left medial
liver lobe
Figure 11.8 Ventral view of female hamster
showing abdominal viscera. The right uterine
horn is shown, shaded, behind the intestines.
From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J.
(1990) A colour atlas of anatomy of small labo-
ratory animals. Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe
with permission.
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do have sharp teeth (Fig. 11.11). Pups weigh 23 g at birth
and their eyes and ears open at 5 and 15 days, respectively.
Weaning is at around 3 weeks (Harkness & Wagner 1995;
Kent 1968).
ENDOCRINE SYSTEM
The thryoid gland is bilobed and located at the level of the
first tracheal cartilage. There are two parathyroid glands in
its lateral margins. The adrenal glands lie craniomedial to the
kidney and are embedded in adipose tissue. Unlike in most
rodents, these glands are bigger in the male than the female
(Bivin et al. 1987). There is a higher incidence of adreno-
cortical hyperplasia and adenomas in the Syrian hamsters
Hamsters
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Anus
Mammary
papillae
Figure 11.10 Ventral view of mammary glands in the female hamster.
From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas of anatomy
of small laboratory animals. Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe with permission.
Figure 11.11 Hamster young are born altricial both their eyes and
earflaps are closed.
Spleen
Stomach
Left kidney
Apex of
cecum
Descending colon
Rectum
Thymus
Left lung
Heart
Liver lobes
Left ovary
Left uterine
horn
Body of cecum
Sternum
Pancreas
Jejunum
Figure 11.9 Lateral left side of abdominal cavity of female hamster (ribs removed). From Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1990) A colour atlas
of anatomy of small laboratory animals. Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK: Wolfe.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
than any other rodent and these occur more commonly in
elderly (2- to 3-year-old) male hamsters.
SENSES
Sight
Being nocturnal, vision is less important than hearing, olfac-
tion, and sensation. The hamster has a panoramic visual
field. A large orbital venous sinus is present and this is
used for blood sampling in laboratory animals (Bivin et al.
1987).
Hearing and touch
In common with all rodents, hamsters have large tympanic
bullae giving them a keen sense of hearing (Fig. 11.4).
Sensitive vibrissae are the main channel for somatic sensory
input.
Taste
Hamsters dislike saline solutions but love sugary foods
(Carpenter 1956). They will also show preference for ethanol,
which unlike most other rodents they can metabolize well
on account of their having two to three times more alcohol
dehydrogenase in their liver than do rats. It is thought that
this may have evolved due to the storage of fermentative
grains hoarded underground in their burrow. This high
tolerance to alcohol means that scientists have been unable
to use the hamster as a model for alcohol-induced diseases
(Newcomer et al. 1987).
Olfaction
Being nocturnal, hamsters have a keen sense of smell
and this is enabled by the extensive olfactory epithelium in
the caudal nasal cavity and the vomeronasal (Jacobsons)
organ.
Jacobsons organ is a 7 mm long tubular structure that is
located bilaterally in the rostroventral nasal septum and com-
pletely enclosed in a bony capsule. The cranial end commu-
nicates with the nasal cavity rostrally. The medial wall of
the lumen is lined by sensory olfactory epithelium with the
vomeronasal nerve lying just beneath. Caudally, it connects
with olfactory receptors lying in the ethmoturbinates (Bivin
et al. 1987). This organ may play a role in pheromone
behavior as well as olfaction as removal of the main and acces-
sory olfactory bulbs completely removes sexual behavior
(Bivin et al. 1987).
INTEGUMENT
The fur is soft and smooth, and the ears are bald and gray.
Around the neck region the skin is very loosely attached
and capable of extensive stretching.
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The young are born altricial and hair growth starts at
9 days. There is soft underfur and this is covered by longer
and thicker guard hairs. The hair is sparse on the feet and
tail and there are fine hairs on the pinnae. The flank glands
have short sparse hairs, which are often darkly covered, more
so in the male. Cranial sensitive vibrissae are essential for
orientation, particularly in nocturnal mammals (Bivin et al.
1987).
Flank glands
These costovertebral glands consist of sebaceous glands,
terminal hair, and pigment cells. They reach maximum size
by 21 days in the female and 70 days in the male (Harkness
& Wagner 1995). They are small and unpigmented in the
young, becoming more developed and darkly pigmented in
mature males (Fig. 11.12). Secretion of these glands is
androgen dependent and the glands may play a role in lipo-
genesis, hair, and flank gland growth. They are much more
prominent in the male and become damp when the male is
sexually excited (Bivin et al. 1987; Lipman & Foltz 1996;
Magalhaes 1968).
Figure 11.12 Male Syrian hamster showing hip gland on lateral flank.
They are more prominent and darkly pigmented in adult males.
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CHINESE HAMSTER
The Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griseus) was first used as
a laboratory animal in China in 1919 in an attempt to identify
types of pneumococci in human patients at the Peking
medical college. A breeding stock of 10 males and 10 females
was shipped to the USA in 1948, just before the estab-
lishment of the Peoples Republic of China (Chang et al.
1987). The discovery of hereditary diabetes in the Chinese
hamster made them popular over the next two decades in
diabetic research (Harkness & Wagner 1995). They are also
the favored species for genetic research, having only 22
chromosomes (Lipman & Foltz 1996; Whittaker 1999).
The Chinese hamster is also known as the striped or gray
hamster. They are small, weigh 3035 g, with the female
being about 10% smaller than the male (Chang et al. 1987;
Harkness & Wagner 1995). The fur is grayish black with a
dorsal stripe. They are quite pugnacious (especially the
females) and so must be kept singly (Lipman & Foltz 1996).
Like the Syrian they are polyestrous but with a slightly longer
gestation period of 21 days.
RUSSIAN HAMSTER
The Russian hamster (Phodopus sungorus) has footpads
covered in fur, hence the common name hairy footed
hamster (Fig. 11.13). Adult males are about 11 cm long and
have a body weight of 4050 g; the females are smaller,
being 9 cm long and about 30 g (Cantrell & Padovan 1987).
The dorsal fur is gray, with a dark brown stripe down the
middle from the nape to the tail base; ventrally the fur is
white. The female has four pairs of mammary glands. As
well as the flank glands they have a ventral sebaceous gland
that is larger in males than females (Cantrell & Padovan
1987; Harkness & Wagner 1995).
The pelage will change to a white coat when exposed to
natural light cycles and colder temperatures, an ability that
evolved in order to provide camouflage in the snow (Cantrell
& Padovan 1987). Under the influence of the pineal gland,
increased melatonin production inhibits prolactin and causes
the new fur to grow unpigmented as winter white. These
hamsters do not hibernate but, if the temperature drops to
19 C for a few days, there is a decrease in body weight and
the hamster goes into torpor for 48 hours each day in
order to conserve energy (Cantrell & Padovan 1987).
This hamster is commonly used in laboratory research
for studies in photoperiodism and the pineal gland. The
male exhibits large testicles, enlarged accessory glands, and
greater body weight when exposed to light for more than
13 hours per day (Cantrell & Padovan 1987).
REFERENCES
Bivin, W. S., Olsen, G. A., & Murray, K. A. (1987) Morphophysiology.
In G. L. Van Hoosier & C. A. W. McPherson (eds.), Laboratory
hamsters. Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press. pp. 942.
Cantrell, C.A., & Padovan, D. (1987) Other hamsters: Biology, care
and use in research. In G. L. Van Hoosier & C. A. W. McPherson
(eds.), Laboratory hamsters. Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press.
pp. 369373.
Carpenter, J. A. (1956) Species differences in taste preferences.
Journal of Comparative Physiology and Psychology 49,
139143.
Chang, A., Diani, A., & Conell, M. (1987) The striped or Chinese
hamster: Biology and care. In G. L. Van Hoosier & C. A. W.
McPherson (eds.), Laboratory hamsters. Orlando, Fla.: Academic
Press. pp. 305316.
Del Campo, C. H., & Ginther, O. J. (1972) Vascular anatomy of the
uterus and ovaries and the unilateral luteolytic effect of the
uterus: Guinea pigs, rats, hamsters and rabbits. American Journal
of Veterinary Research 33, 25612578.
Derrell Clark, J. (1987) Historical perspectives and taxonomy. In G.
L. Van Hoosier & C. A. W. McPherson (eds.), Laboratory
hamsters. Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press. pp. 36.
Ferm, V. H. (1987) Genital system. In T. C. Jones, U. Mohair & R.
D. Hunt (eds.), Monographs on pathology of laboratory animals.
Berlin: Springer-Verlag. pp. 13.
Fulton, G. P. (1968) The golden hamster in biomedical research.
In R. A. Hoffman, P. F. Robinson & H. Magalhaes (eds.),
The golden hamster its biology and use medical research.
Ames: Iowa State University Press. pp. 315.
Harkness, J. E., & Wagner, J. E. (1995) The biology and medicine
of rabbits and rodents, 4th edn. Baltimore: William & Wilkins.
Biology and husbandry the hamster; pp. 4049.
Hamsters
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KEY POI NTS
Open rooted incisors, closed molars
Prominent hip glands
Stomach divided into glandular and non-glandular portions
Uterus is duplex, vaginal glands present
Cheek pouches can extend as far caudal as shoulder
blades
Copious white discharge at end of estrous is normal in
female
Figure 11.13 Russian hamster (Phodopus sungorus).
Ch11.qxd 3/9/05 2:47 PM Page 235
and sample collection. The veterinary clinics of North America:
Exotic animal practice. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: WB Saunders.
pp. 565590.
Newcomer, C. E., Fitts, D. A., Goldman, B. D., Murphy, M.R., Rao,
G.N., Shklar, G., & Schwartz, J.L. (1987) Experimental biology:
Other research uses of Syrian hamsters. In G. L. Van Hoosier &
C. A. W. McPherson (eds.), Laboratory hamsters. Orlando, Fla.:
Academic Press. pp. 263300.
Nowak, R. M. (ed.) (1999) Golden hamsters. Walkers Mammals
of the World, 6th edn. Vol. 11. Baltimore: John Hopkins
University Press. pp. 14231425.
Popesko, P., Rajtova, V., & Horak, J. (1992) A colour atlas of
anatomy of small laboratory animals. Vol. 2. Aylesbury, UK:
Wolfe. Rat, mouse, hamster; pp. 169238.
Vaughan, T. A. (ed.) (1986) Mammology, 3rd edn. Philadelphia:
Saunders College. Order Rodentia; pp. 244277.
Whittaker, D. (1999) Hamsters. In T. Poole (ed.), The UFAW
handbook on the care and management of laboratory animals,
7th edn. Vol. 1. pp. 356366.
Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
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Hoffman, R. A. (1968) Hibernation and the effects of low
temperature. In R. A. Hoffman, P. F. Robinson & H. Magalhaes
(eds.), The golden hamster its biology and use medical research.
Ames: Iowa State University Press. pp. 2541.
Hoover, W. H., Mannings, C. L., & Sheerin, H. W. (1969)
Observations on digestion in the golden hamster. Journal
of Animal Science 28, 349352.
Kent, G. C. (1968) The physiology of reproduction. In R. A.
Hoffman, P. F. Robinson & H. Magalhaes (eds.), The golden
hamster its biology and use medical research. Ames: Iowa State
University Press. pp. 119139.
Lipman, N.S., & Foltz, C. (1996) Hamsters. In K. Laber-Laird,
M. M. Swindle & P. Flecknell (eds.), Handbook of rodent and
rabbit medicine. Oxford: Pergamon. pp. 5991.
Magalhaes, H. (1968) Gross Anatomy. In R. A. Hoffman, P. F.
Robinson & H. Magalhaes (eds.), The golden hamster its biology
and use medical research. Ames: Iowa State University Press.
pp. 91111.
McClure, D.E. (1999) Clinical pathology and sample collection in
the laboratory rodent. In D. R. Reavill (ed.), Clinical pathology
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INTRODUCTION
Ferrets belong to the family Mustelidae, a diverse group of
small to medium-size carnivores that includes weasels, stoats,
polecats, mink, skunks, otters, and badgers. The ferret (Mustela
putorius furo) is a domesticated polecat. The European
polecat (M. putorius putorius) was probably the ancestor,
but there is some argument about whether the domesti-
cated ferret is derived from the European, Asiatic, Siberian
or Ethiopian polecat.
Domestic ferrets have been used since Roman times to
control rabbits by ferreting, which continues today in Europe
and Australia. While being working animals, used for con-
trolling rabbits and rats, ferrets are also pets and kept as
such in America, Britain, Europe, Australia, New Zealand,
and Japan. Ferrets are also used as an experimental model
for medical research and formerly for the fur trade. The
study of ferret physiology was carried out initially in respect
to ferrets use for biomedical research (Whary & Andrews
1998). Evans and An (1998) have also extensively reviewed
the complete anatomy of the ferret.
GENERAL EXTERNAL ANATOMY
The domestic ferret can be dark coated and dark eyed: the
sable, fitch-ferret or polecat-ferret, in contrast to the albino
(pink-eyed white) ferret, which is the other traditional
color. It has not been proved that the dark (sable) ferret is
a product of a European polecat and white ferret mating
(Owen 1984).
The base of the ferret head is narrower than that of the
polecat; when viewed from above it resembles an isosceles
triangle while the face of the polecat makes an equilateral
triangle. The sable ferrets face is interesting for its panda
mask appearance. It is similar to the European polecat, having
dark eyes ringed with brown hair and then cream-colored
hair between the eyes and ears, and between the eyes and
nose. The eyes are characteristically less prominent than in
the native polecat. The nose is white, mottled with brown,
and the ears are small and set close to the head. Ferrets rely
extensively on their sense of smell, even though they have
efficient eyes and ears and typical cat-like tactile whiskers.
Frances Pitt summed up the similarity of the ferret and polecat
thus: the fitch ferret bears in outward appearance the
same relation to the polecat that a half-printed photograph
bears to a fully printed one from the same negative (Pitt
1921).
Ferrets can live for 6 to 10 years and reach sexual maturity
at 6 to 9 months of age. The hobs (males) are more otter-
like in shape and size whereas the smaller jills (females) are
more weasel-like. The ferret has short legs with an elongated
body. It stands with an arched back and is agile in movement,
further arching its back when running. The adult hob ferret
body length (including tail) averages 38 cm; the ferret jill is
typically shorter at around 35 cm. Ferret hobs weigh 1000
to 2000 g and ferret jills 600 to 900 g. The diploid chromo-
some number is 40.
SKELETAL SYSTEM
The vertebral formula is: C7, T15, L5 (6), S3, Cd 18 (Fig.
12.1). The ferret spine is very flexible, as befits an agile
animal whose ancestor, the polecat, ranks among the most
efficient of hunters. The ferret can turn around in a pipe or
rabbit burrow in its own length and come racing out.
The ferret chest is very large compared to its body size.
This is said to relate to the ancestry of the polecat as a slim,
active hunter with useful increased lung capacity. The ferret
has 15 pairs of ribs with the first 12 pairs attached to the
sternum. The last five ribs make up the costal arch. The first
ribs are relatively small, as are the last two, making the thoracic
inlet narrow in contrast to other animals for the passage of
the trachea, esophagus and large blood vessels. This can be
significant when discussing chest problems.
The spinal cord can be subject to damage resulting from
fractured vertebrae or disc protrusion. This is a particular risk
in breeding jills, especially in a heavily pregnant or lactating
jill when trying to clamber over some high object. Heavily-
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Ferrets
John Lewington
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
pregnant jills and heavy hobs should be well-supported by
a hand under the rump when handling, to guard against
excessive strain on the vertebral column.
The appendicular skeleton is naturally fine, light bone with
long bones of matchstick diameter. In accident situations the
long bones may fracture and require pinning with K-wire.
It is also possible to use the femur for intraosseous blood
transfusion. The ferret resembles the dog in having five
toes with non-retractable claws, which in the house pet may
require clipping.
Skull
The ferret skull shows the characteristics of the carnivore
and it can be noted from Figure 12.2 that the ferret and dog
have unclosed zygomatic bones to the eye orbit, in contrast
to the cat (Wen et al. 1985). It can be seen from Figure
12.3a that one third of the ferret skull represents the short
facial region and that the brain case is relatively large. Smith
(1982) discovered that Australian ferrets had about two
thirds the brain size of polecats.
CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
Heart
The 4-chambered heart consists of left and right auricles
and left and right ventricles, as is usual in mammals. The
heart muscle is typical and, like the lungs, the ferret heart
has been used in research (Whary & Andrews 1998). It lies
between the 6th and 8th ribs and is obliquely placed in the
thoracic cavity with the apex to the left side (Fig. 12.4).
For auscultation purposes it lies more caudal in the chest
than first imagined. The heart ligament joining it to the
sternum will lose its fatty coat in cases of heart disease and,
on radiology, if the heart is actually resting on the sternum,
it can be a sign of early cardiac enlargement and disease
according to Brown (1997).
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It has been said that the unpaired innominate artery
(brachiocephalic) at the base of the neck aids the ferrets agility
(Willis & Barrow 1971) but there are still two common
carotid arteries in the neck and not a single one as implied.
In the ferret the heart can be compromised with the occur-
rence of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and hypertropic
cardiomyopathy (HCM) in both sexes (Fig. 12.5). DCM
progresses slowly over time whereas HCM initiates sudden
death by left ventricle hypertrophy. The ferret heart can also
become dysfunctional due to the presence of Dirofilaria
immitis adults in the chambers, as with other carnivores.
Being a small mammal the ferret heart rate is usually
between 200 and 400 beats per min. The cardiovascular/
respiratory and arterial blood pressure standards are given
in Table 12.1.
It is difficult to assess cardiac performance in the ferret
using techniques such as systemic arterial blood pressure,
central venous pressure, right ventricular pressure or pul-
monary capillary wedge pressure. Estimations of cardiovas-
cular performance, and more specifically, cardiac output,
are usually limited to monitoring pulse strength and urine
output. Unfortunately, the pulse is not reliably palpable in
ferrets so urine output is therefore the best indicator of
cardiac output (Lucas 2000).
Calvaria
Hyoid
Larynx
Clavicle
Humerus
Radius
Ulna
Metacarpals
Accessory carpal bone 4th carpal 5th digit 1st digit Calcaneus
Metatarsals
Fibula
Patella
Talus
Pubis
Ischium
Fabella
Femur
Ilium
7
C
e
rvica
l
1
5
T
h
o
ra
c
ic
5

L
u
m
b
a
r
3

S
a
c
r
a
l
1
8

C
a
u
d
a
l
Tibia
Sternum
Figure 12.1 The ferret skeleton. (Courtesy of Howard Evans.)
Figure 12.2 Comparative
skulls of three pet carni-
vores: ferret, dog, and cat.
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Ferrets
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Venepuncture
Hematological and serum chemistry require venous blood
sampling, using cephalic and jugular veins (Figs. 12.6 and 12.7).
If you refer to Fig. 12.10, this also shows the external jugular
Palatine fissure
Maxilla
Zygomatic
arch
Frontal
Temporal
Parietal
Sagittal
crest
Nuchal crest
Supraoccipital
Exoccipital
condyle
Coronoid
process
of
mandible
Zygomatic
bone
Infraorbital
foramen
Nasal
(a)
Incisive
(premaxilla)
Incisors:
1-Central
2-Intermediate
3-Corner
Canine
Pm 2
Pm 3
Pm 4
Pm 1
Choana
Pterygoid
Condylar
process
Presphenoid
Basisphenoid
Carotid canal
Basioccipital
Jugular
foramen
Hypoglossal
canal
Foramen
magnum
Occipital
condyle
Tympanic
bulla
Temporomandibular
joint
Alar foramen
Optic canal
Palatine palate
Hard palate
Basihyoid
Ceratohyoid
Epihyoid
Stylohyoid
Thyrohyoid
Thyroid cartilage
Cricoid cartilage
Tracheal rings
Maxillary palate
Mandible
Mental foramen
(b)
Figure 12.3 (a) The ferret skull dorsal view, (b) The ferret skull ventral view. (Courtesy of Howard Evans.)
vein, one of the main routes for bleeding or giving blood. It
lies quite lateral on the neck and can be difficult to palpate
in the hob due to its thickened neck. There is a laboratory
technique for tail artery sampling, which is useful for peri-
odic sampling of numerous ferrets (Curl & Curl 1985).
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
The healthy ferret should have a packed cell volume
(PCV) greater than 20%. For a sick ferret, with PCV below
15%, a blood transfusion is advised. Blood typing is not
necessary in ferrets for blood transfusions (Manning & Bell
1990). Samples of 6, 9 or 12 ml of blood can be taken from
jills, small or large hobs, respectively (Lucas 2000). Note that,
when sedated, an average 1.52.0 kg hob can give 1520 ml
of blood and the average 0.751.00 kg jill, 1012 ml
(Jenkins & Brown 1993).
RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Lungs
The lungs are relatively long in the tube-like space of the
chest in such a sleek animal as the ferret. They give lateral
and dorsal cover to the heart and are divided into cranial,
middle, caudal, and accessory lobes on the right side, and
cranial and caudal on the left (Fig. 12.4). The thoracic inlet
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Esophagus
1-Vertebral
2-Costocervical
4-Axillary
3-Superf. cervical
aa.
}
5-Common carotid
6-Laryngeal
7-Int. thoracic
L. subclavian a.
Pulmonary trunk
L. cranial lobe
L. coronary a.
L. auricle
Paraconal
interventricular br.
L. ventricle
L. caudal lobe
Esophagus
Aorta Caudal
vena cava
R. caudal lobe
Accessory lobe
R. middle lobe
R. ventricle
Rib 6
R. auricle
Aortic arch
Cranial vena cava
Brachiocephalic trunk
Br. to thymus
R. Cranial lobe
Trachea
Rib 2
7
4
3
2
5 6
5
2 3
4
7
Figure 12.4 Ferret heart and lungs (ventral
view). (Courtesy of Howard Evans.)
Figure 12.5 Radiograph of ferret showing chest structure. This ferret has cardiomyopathy.
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Ferrets
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is narrower compared to other carnivores which have more
bulk, such as dogs, and contains anterior mediastinal lymph
nodes and passage of the trachea, esophagus, and major
blood vessels. Any abnormality of even one organ at this
point can cause serious interference with chest function.
Major neoplastic conditions can arise in young and old
ferrets, such as lymphoma and fibrosarcoma.
The ferret lungs have a large volume in relation to body
weight, with the total lung capacity exceeding a predicted value
by 297%, hence their value as experimental animals for research
into human conditions. Interestingly, ferret lung structure
contains excess submucosal glands in the bronchial wall and
extra terminal bronchioles, making them anatomically like
human lungs (Whary & Andrews 1998). Ferrets can be infected
with human influenza virus as well as canine distemper.
DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Dentition
Adult ferrets have typical carnivore dentition with large curved
canines and strong premolars and molars (Figs. 12.3b and 12.9).
Deciduous dentition
(Pass et al. 1993)
Upper I 4 4 C 1 1 P 3 3 M 0 0
Arcade
Lower I 3 3 C 1 1 P 3 3 M 0 0
Total 30 teeth
Permanent dentition
(Pass et al. 1993)
Upper I 3 3 C 1 1 P 3 3 M 1 1
Arcade
Lower I 3 3 C 1 1 P 3 3 M 2 2
Total 34 teeth
During operations care must be taken not to compress the
ferrets chest as they rely more on diaphragm movement for
ventilation under anesthesia than on costal movement. If a
ferret stops breathing, cardiopulmonary resuscitation can be
instigated by holding it by the legs and moving it side to side
to stimulate diaphragmatic breathing.
CLINICAL NOTE
The kittens temporary teeth first erupt between the 3rd
and 4th week so it is possible for needle-sharp canines
to inflict damage on the jills mammary glands, leading to
mastitis.
CLINICAL NOTE
Adapted from Fox, J. G. (1988). Biology and diseases of the ferret, 2nd edn. p. 184,
with permission
Mean systolic Jill 133, hob 161 mmHg (conscious)
Mean diastolic 110125 mmHg (anesthetized)
Heart rate 200400 beats/min
Cardiac output 139 ml/min
Circulation time 4.56.8 s
Blood volume Jill 40 ml, hob 60 ml (57% of body weight)
Respiration 3336/min
Body temperature 38.8 C (range 37.840 C).
Table 12.1 Cardiovascular / respiratory and arterial blood pressure
standard measurements
Figure 12.7 Taking blood from the jugular vein. Photo courtesy of John
Tingay.
Figure 12.6 Taking blood from the cephalic vein. Photo courtesy
of John Tingay.
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
The ferrets permanent teeth appear from the 7th week
of age, with the upper and lower canines plus the first lower
molar appearing first. At about 53 days the upper molar is
seen. This is followed by the second, third, and fourth upper
premolars and the second and third lower premolars, which
are all present by 67 days after birth. Finally, in the lower
jaw, the fourth premolar and second molar are present a
week later (Evans & An 1998).
The rostral view of the adult ferret skull (Fig. 12.9) illus-
trates the very narrow ventral space in the nasal conchae,
through which only a 3.0 or 3.5 French red rubber catheter
could be passed in an emergency.
The ferret or polecat jaw is powerful enough to kill small
prey by crushing the skull, using the biting canines. A well-
adjusted pet ferret is unlikely to bite to hurt unless alarmed
or in pain. Young ferrets may nip in the process of play-
fighting, either with each other or with their owner, but
the skin is not usually penetrated.
Abnormalities can occur in the dentition. Western Australian
ferret kittens have shown supernumerary incisors. In one
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Pulmonary vessels
Left bronchus
Esophagus
Accessory lobe of lung
Liver
Stomach
Kidneys
Ovary
Uterine horn
Desc. colon
Rectum
Vagina
Bladder
Ileum
Jejunum
Duodenum
Left auricle Left subclavian
Aortic arch
Right ventricle
Spleen
(b)
Lungs:
Left caudal lobe
Left cranial lobe
Trachea
Brachiocephalic
vein
Pericardium
Duodenum
Jejunum
Ileum
Bladder
Vagina
Rectum
Descending
colon
Ovary
Kidneys
Spleen
Diaphragm
(a)
Figure 12.8 (a) The thoracic and abdominal viscera by a superficial left lateral view. The dotted line shows the curve of the diaphragm. (b) The ferret
thoracic and abdominal viscera on lateral view showing left lung removed. The dotted lines show the stomach passing to the pylorus dorsally and the
duodenum. (Courtesy of Howard Evans.)
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survey of 350 ferrets from various UK breeders, 26 ferrets
had one or two supernumerary incisors (Andrews et al. 1979).
There were three ferrets with broken canines. This was
considered at the time an action by ferreters to stop them
killing rabbits, but it is not necessary and today would be
regarded as a mutilation. Canine teeth can be fractured in
fights or by accidents, and modern ferret dentistry can effect
a repair (Johnson-Delaney & Nelson 1992). Basic dentistry
is commonly carried out for scaling and extracting teeth
under anesthesia with pet ferrets, as with dogs and cats.
Figure 12.10 Ferret pharynx and structures of interest. (Courtesy
of Howard Evans.)
Ferrets
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Zygomatic process
of frontal bone
Infraorbital
foramen
Zygomatic
arch
Temporo-
mandibular
joint
Hard palate
Coronoid
process
Orbit
Vomer
Ventral
nasal
concha
Dorsal
nasal
concha
Perpendicular
plate of ethmoid
Figure 12.9 Ferret skull
(rostral view). (Courtesy
of Howard Evans.)
1.1
1.2
1.3
P
.
3
P
.
4
M
.
1
Ear canal
Pharyngeal isthmus
Facial v.
Digastricus m.
Lingual v.
L. med. retropharyngeal In.
Ext. jugular v.
Int. jugular v.
Common carotid a.
Esophagus
Soft
palate
Dorsal wall of
laryngeal pharynx
P
.
2
C
Hard palate
Orifice of parotid duct
Incisive papilla
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Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Muscles of mastication
The well-developed masseter muscle originates at the zygo-
matic arch and inserts on the masseteric fossa, condyloid
crest, and mandibular angular process. The digastric muscle
originates on the jugular process and tympanic bulla and
passes to the ventral border of the caudal portion of the
mandible and has the action of opening the jaw. The major
adductor muscle of the lower jaw is the temporalis and this
is well developed in the hob. The deep pterygoid muscles,
lateral and medial, assist the masseter and temporalis muscles
in the crushing and chewing motion of closing the jaws.
Tongue
The ferret tongue (Fig. 12.11) is long and freely movable
and can be pulled forward to expose the tracheal entrance
for endotracheal tubing, as in other mammals. The lingual
frenulum can be the site of grass awn penetrations, especially
in working ferrets in summer.
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Salivary glands
The ferret has five pairs of salivary glands: parotid, mandibular,
sublingual, molar, and zygomatic (Fig. 12.12). These glands
can be damaged in fights between hob ferrets, typically in
the mating season. The resulting formation of mucoceles
will require surgical drainage. Miller and Pickett (1989)
have described an operation on a zygomatic salivary gland
mucocele.
Gastrointestinal tract
The esophagus can have a dilated transthoracic section,
defined as a megaesophagus, which is sometimes also seen
in puppies. This condition has occurred in ferrets but is
now a rarity. The musculature of the esophagus is thin and
weak and motility is reduced, leading to typical food bolus
collection and regurgitation. Ferrets are able to vomit and
have been used in experiments on the physiology of vomiting
relating to humans.
The ferret has a short digestive tract like other carnivores,
with a simple stomach lying on the curve of the liver in the
cranial abdomen (Figs. 12.8a, b and 12.13). The stomach is
capable of tremendous swelling and an adult hob ferret has
been known to eat 80 g of meat at one time and then slowly
digest it overnight.
Intestines
The small intestine is approximately 182198 cm long and
extends from the pylorus of the stomach to the junction
with the colon (Evans & An 1998)(Figs. 12.13 and 12.14).
The duodenum, the proximal loop of small intestine, is about
10 cm long. The ileum and jejunum have no apparent demar-
cation and pass to the large intestine, which is approximately
10 cm long. There is no ileocolonic valve in the ferret and no
cecum or appendix. Because the cecum is missing, the ileocecal
In the upper dental arcade the first molar appears tucked
behind the fourth premolar and is sometimes the site of a
root abscess.
CLINICAL NOTE
The ferret has a powerful bite and can clamp its jaws tight on
prey and will not let go. Large strong birds, which have been
bitten on the foot, have been known to take weasels, stoats
and even polecats aloft!
GENERAL INTEREST
Esophagus Epiglottis
Palatine tonsil
in tonsillar fossa
Vallate papilla Median sulcus
Fungiform papillae
Filiform papillae
Lingual frenulum
Foliate papillae
Figure 12.11 The
ferret tongue. (Courtesy
of Howard Evans.)
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junction is indistinct; however, the junction can be inferred
by the pattern of the jejunal artery, which anastomoses with
the ileocecal artery. The colon is divided into ascending,
transverse, and descending portions and ends at the junction
with the rectum at the pelvic inlet level (Evans & An 1998).
The bowel is subject to obstructions: for example, chewed
plastic toys. Foreign body operation procedure has been
described (Bennett & Pye 2000).
The anus has an internal (smooth muscle) and external
(voluntary muscle) sphincter system (Evans & An 1998).
The external sphincter encloses the paired musk glands,
which have openings on either side of the anal canal
(Fig. 12.18). The musk glands are approximately 10 mm by
5 mm and their removal (anal sacculectomy) has been
described (Bennett & Pye 2000).
Liver
The diaphragm itself is divided into a typical muscular
dome with central tendinous area and two crura. The liver
fits into the mould of the ferret diaphragm and is relatively
large compared to the average ferret body weight; an
8001150 g animal could have a liver of 3559 g (Evans &
An 1998). The liver has right lateral, right, and left medial
lobes, a quadrate central lobe hiding the gall bladder, and a
left lateral lobe, all in the curvature of the diaphragm
(Fig. 12.15). The liver can be the site of primary neoplasia
or subject to secondary invasions of malignant cells.
Pancreas and spleen
The pancreas is an elongate, lobulate, inverted V-shaped
organ, usually light pink to bright red in color (Figs. 12.14
and 12.15). It can be the site of insulinoma cancers in
ferrets. Delicate surgery for pancreatic beta-cell tumors has
been described (Bennett & Pye 2000).
The spleen is a gray-brown organ lying in the left hypogas-
tric area, running parallel to the greater curvature of the
stomach. It is crescent shaped and can become large quite
normally in adults, though also very enlarged as a primary
or secondary cancer.
Ferrets
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Zygomatic gland
Zygomatic ducts
Parotid duct
p Parotid gland
m Mandibular gland
Mandibular duct Digastricus m.
m
p
p
Buccal gland
Mandibular duct
Mandibular In.
Sublingual gland
m
Figure 12.12 Ferret salivary glands.
(Courtesy of Howard Evans.)
KEY POI NTS
The ferret skeleton is lightweight but extremely flexible
and strong.
The thoracic cavity is large relative to body size.
Ferrets have no ileocolonic valve, cecum, or appendix.
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enced by non-renal factors. It is stated that the increase in
serum concentrations of both substances do not actually
appear until the kidney is 75% damaged (Esteves et al. 1994).
It has been considered that creatinine elevation for ferrets
is much lower than that of dogs and cats, as the normal mean
value is lower (0.40.6 mg/dL) and the range is narrower
(0.20.9 mg/dL). It may be that renal tubular secretion or
enteric factors may be more prominent in affecting creati-
nine metabolism in ferrets than other animals (Rosenthal
1994). For laboratory ferrets